FORT PIERCE — John Wilkes, executive director of the Sunrise Theatre since 2007, is leaving his position effective Monday after receiving a termination notice from City Manager Nick Mimms.
Wilkes said in an email sent to friends and associates Thursday night that Mimms notified him during a meeting with him April 23 that he was terminating his employment contract effective May 7 and stated, “Despite the success over the past ten years, the theatre has struggled to become financially solvent which is crucial for the economic viability of the City of Fort Pierce. Unfortunately, the situation cannot continue and the City of Fort Pierce will utilize another leadership strategy for the Sunrise Theatre. Your creative ideas and guidance have propelled the Sunrise Theatre as a destination for the community and the premier performing arts venue of the Treasure Coast.”
Wilkes previously had served as executive director of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota and the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach and several performing arts venues in Canada. With his many contacts developed over the years, Wilkes brought major headliners such as Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, Diana Ross, Frankie Valli, Ringo Starr, Smokey Robinson and many others to the 1,200-seat Sunrise. He also opened the theater’s Black Box, a smaller venue adjoining the main theater, during his tenure at the Sunrise. Wilkes also was part of a consulting team that helped plan the renovation and reopening of the Sunrise, built in the waning days of Vaudeville in 1923. One of the oldest theater’s on the east coast of Florida, the Sunrise closed in 1983, reopening in 2006 after a renovation that included about $11 million in public money.
Wilkes replaced David Jenkins, who abruptly resigned after his first year as director of the theater. At the time, the theater had a $1.3 million deficit.
Wilkes was well-known to Sunrise audiences, often introducing each show and appearing before various community groups to generate enthusiasm for the theater and its shows. Wilkes said Mimms was cordial and complimentary for his “unwavering enthusiasm and support for the development of Fort Pierce” and Wilkes asked friends to support Mimms’ decision and “continue to support your love and devotion to the Sunrise Theatre and, like myself, hope that his plans to utilize another leadership strategy for the Sunrise Theatre will bear well for the City and for the theater.”
Mimms could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
In his email, Wilkes thanked his friends, Sunrise employees, city staff and commissioners, theater advisory board and foundation members and Main Street Fort Pierce for their support. “They’ve been a big part of my life and the life of the Sunrise Theatre for so many years,” he said.
Wilkes also said he plans to stay in Fort Pierce: “Please know that I will not be a stranger as I will continue to live in Fort Pierce and hopefully contribute more to the betterment of Fort Pierce through volunteer work and making plans to extend my personal and professional aspirations in this great and special community. Cheers to all and a heartfelt thank you again.”
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