Teatro ZinZanni, the neo-cirque dinner theater founded across the street from Seattle Center in 1998, may have to move its tent after Seattle Opera sells land to a real estate-development company.

Share story

Teatro ZinZanni, the neo-cirque dinner theater founded near Seattle Center in 1998, may have to move — and fast.

The land where its large, multicolored spiegeltent sits is being sold by Seattle Opera to a real estate-development company called Washington Holdings. The deal hasn’t officially closed yet, but ZinZanni founder Norman Langill said the tent may have to pull up stakes as soon as mid-March.

ZinZanni has asked to stay for a few months while the deal is finalized and Washington Holdings gets its development permits in order, but the theater company hasn’t gotten the green light yet.

“In the best-case scenario,” Langill said, “we could stay here for 18 months while we look for a new location and pay the new owners what they want for rent.” In the worst-case scenario, “we’re out in March, which puts the whole company in a very, very perilous situation.”

Seattle Opera is selling the land to pay for renovation of the condemned Mercer Arena and expand the opera’s operations. Kym Michela, a spokeswoman for the opera, says ZinZanni knew the clock was ticking on its location — its original lease has been extended three times between 2010 and 2017. In the most recent extension agreement, she wrote by email, ZinZanni “specifically agreed to ‘remove all of (its) personal property, furniture, fixtures, improvements and equipment’ ” from the site by March 15.

Langill thinks ZinZanni’s impending eviction is a troubling sign of Seattle prioritizing real-estate development over the arts. “The city is changing so rapidly, and there isn’t a consideration for keeping culture,” he said. “That land shouldn’t just lie fallow while Washington Holdings waits for its permits.”

A letter supporting the ZinZanni cause has been signed by several members of Seattle’s culture community, including Lane Czaplinski of theater On the Boards, Tom Mara and John Richards of radio station KEXP and members of Pearl Jam.

Maria Barrientos, a spokesperson for Washington Holdings, said ZinZanni had known this day was coming — and that once the sale closes, the company “would begin predevelopment site work immediately, which requires us to have unobstructed access to the entire site.”

ZinZanni has operated in a few different spots since 1998, including Pier 29 in San Francisco. “We think it’s great that the opera is developing its facility down the street,” Langill said. “We support them. We’re just asking for time.”