Big Dog Theater, a new comedy/improv venue scheduled to open in the old Centrum movie theater on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights this weekend, has run into a building permit issue. Its opening has been delayed indefinitely.
Cleveland actor/improv artist/teacher Don Mitri signed a lease in late July to take over the empty theater, which he planned to turn into a theater for local and touring improv and sketch comedy groups, as well as stand-up comics. His plans include an improv school and resident long-form and short-form improv teams.
Mitri says he went to the Cleveland Heights building commission a few weeks after signing his lease to set up an inspection for his certificate of occupancy. On Tuesday he learned it was denied over the building’s lack of an elevator to comply with the Amricans With Disabilities Act.
“The owners of the building were under the impression that the variance for elevator installation they received before I came in would carry over to new tenants,” says Mitri. The building had gotten the variance for Johnny Malloy’s and a short-lived 2006 improv theater effort. But since both had closed by the time Mitri signed the lease, this was considered a re-opening, with new rules.
Unfortunately, this means that Mitri and the building owners will have to go to a hearing — possibly a month or more down the road — to request a new variance. In the meantime, he’s stymied, although auditions and rehearsals for the resident improv teams are moving ahead.
“I had massive promo and advertising out there,” says Mitri. “We had great huge weekend to start things off. The landlords are 100 percent behind us. They redid the whole building from the lobby to the theater. The city wants it; the merchants want it. It’s difficult and disappointing, but we’re working closely with owners and building commission to resolve this as soon as possible.”