Archived Story

No. 2 story of 2012: Turnage sold on courthouse steps

Published 11:11pm Saturday, December 29, 2012

The fate of the beautifully restored Turnage Theater was the No. 2 story of 2012.

The Turnage shut its doors in December of 2011 when it became apparent the theater’s burden of debt prohibited operation. Its marquee has remained unlit since. There have been community, and city, efforts to determine the ways in which to “save the Turnage” over the latter half of 2012, with the City of Washington going so far as to give written notice to the banks involved of its interest in purchasing the theater in downtown Washington.
In late October, a letter of intent was submitted to the court-appointed entity handling the theater’s foreclosure process — a letter of intent that City Manager Josh Kay asserted was nonbinding.

“What the mayor and City Council wanted to do was provide a show of our interest in a historically significant, and very economic-developmentally significant property, to the bank as they go through the foreclosure process,” Kay explained at the time.

The letter from the city requested consideration of a cash offer of $150,000 to purchase the property.

The banks did not bite and at 2 p.m. on Nov. 5, a crowd of spectators and interested parties gathered on the Beaufort County Courthouse steps to witness the sale. John Gardner, an attorney with the Raleigh-based law firm K & L Gates LLP, acting as trustee for TRSTE, Inc., presided over the sale.

While the reading of the legal notice took several minutes, once the request for bids came, the single bid, by Gardner, brought the auction swiftly to a close. The single bid of $442,800 placed the Turnage Theater in the hands of new ownership: Wells Fargo Bank, NA, one of the five banks holding the Turnage mortgage.

There were no other bids on the theater during the 10-day window in which they would have been accepted. The bank will determine the theater’s market value before it will be put up for sale again.

At the time of the auction, Kay said the city’s next step with regard to the Turnage Theater was unclear, but that council would be discussing the matter.

Advocates for the purchase of the theater by the city, with potential assistance from the county, stressed the need for community support, especially in the day-to-day operation of the theater.

Financial insolvency forced the historic Turnage Theater to close its doors last December, but the story of its rescue began nearly two decades ago. In 1996, a group of enthusiastic historic preservationists saved the crumbling building from complete ruin. At the time, it had been empty for 16 years, its only tenants, a legion of pigeons. Eleven years, tens of thousands of dollars in private contributions and more than $1.5 million in state and city money later, the Turnage’s marquee was re-lit. With its revival, came the hope that the theater would be the cultural heart of Washington, but four short years later, the Turnage went dark again. Officials say another revival of the theater, especially one funded by local government, would have to be different a second time around.

“Should the city take control of (the Turnage Theater), they’d have to have a public vote,” Kay said in October, adding that the city’s preparations wouldn’t stop there. Kay said the purchase would hinge on two issues: having robust business and operations plans in place and that those plans would have to be very inclusive of all segments of the community.


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