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Local restaurant owners to take over management of Cumming Playhouse
Cumming Playhouse
Locals say such long-standing buildings as the Cumming Playhouse, seen above today, are haunted. - photo by Submitted

The Cumming Playhouse has been in the upper floor of the historic 1923 Cumming Public School building since 2004, and Tam’s BackStage restaurant joined it on the lower floor a year later. Kelly Tam, co-owner of the restaurant along with her husband, Brian, calls it “a happy marriage.”

“It really works well when there are shows going on,” Kelly said. “It’s good for our business as well.”

The Tams now have even more incentive for the Playhouse’s success after the Cumming City Council voted 4-0, with Councilman Lewis Ledbetter absent, to turn over management of the theater to the local restaurant owners at the council’s work session Tuesday.

Starting in January 2019, the Tams will lease the Playhouse from the city for $5,500 a month. They’ll be responsible for soliciting shows and assume responsibility for cleaning the Playhouse and its restrooms. The city will remain responsible for the utilities, liability insurance and maintenance and repair of the historic building.

The Tams said not much else will change. All contracts on the 2018 Playhouse schedule will remain, with maybe a show or two added, if possible.

“It’s pretty much business as usual,” Kelly Tam said, “and the same opportunity for groups to come in and do shows will still be there.”

The Playhouse’s management became a topic for discussion this past March when Leigh Ann Cannady, owner and director of Forsyth Academy of Performing Arts, made a presentation to the council during a work session about the organization taking over operation of theater. No action was taken then, though Mayor Troy Brumbalow expressed willingness to hear other options.

The Tams’ proposal was one of three finalists presented to the council, and City Administrator Phil Higgins recommended the Tams’ as the most lucrative and reliable considering the couple’s vested interest in the Playhouse’s success and their business reputation. The Tams have owned two more local restaurants, including Tam’s Tupelo on Buford Highway.

Brumbalow said the Tams’ monthly lease should help end the Playhouse’s dour financial history. Brumbalow said the city has lost an average of $149,000 a year on the Playhouse since its opening, including an average loss of more than $200,000 the past three years. Even the Tams assuming responsibility of cleaning the Playhouse will save $15,000 a year the city had been paying for such services, according to Brumbalow.

“This allows us to be actually operating in the positive while still providing community theater to the community,” Brumbalow said. “... This is a win for the City of Cumming.”