Turnage future discussed

Published 12:31 am Thursday, January 12, 2012

The historic Turnage Theater may be sold, but it appears unlikely it will be sold this year, according to sources within the Turnage Theaters Foundation.

The nonprofit foundation recently yielded control of the theater to a five-bank consortium that owns equal shares of the mortgage on the facility.

Late in 2011, the TTF board announced the theater would close when it appeared the $960,000 mortgage, combined with other expenses, would be too great a load to carry.

The theater was closed to the public Dec. 17, 2011.

Last year, foundation sources said it looked as if the banks would launch foreclosure proceedings late last year or early this year.

Now, it seems the banks may hold off on the foreclosure and subsequent sale because of a tax credit obtained through the National Trust for Historic Preservation and an 80-percent loan guarantee by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The banks are on the hook for the 20 percent of the loan not guaranteed by USDA, the sources said.

Essentially, this means the foundation could continue to play some role with the Turnage through most, if not all, of this year. What role the group might play hasn’t been determined.

These reports came to light Tuesday night during the foundation’s annual meeting in Washington.

Through the provisions of the banks’ loan and the National Trust agreement, the foundation has to “stay involved in helping with an orderly transition” and will hold quarterly, if not monthly, meetings in accordance with its bylaws, the Rev. Charles Smith, foundation president, told around 40 attendees at the annual meeting.

The meetings might be held at the Turnage, and it’s conceivable the foundation could be allowed to take part in booking some events at the theater this year, indicated Smith and Bob Schultz, foundation treasurer.

The banks have hired a property manager, Coldwell Banker, to ensure the theater is properly maintained in the interim, Schultz said.

“Certainly, one of our objectives is to make sure this theater remains in good condition,” he said.

In the treasurer’s report, Schultz retraced some of the foundation’s financial difficulties, pointing out TTF was unable to refund the $60,000 patrons had expended to purchase tickets for the cancelled remainder of the 2011-2012 season.

The foundation decided to treat the ticket purchases as tax-deductible donations, he said.

Today, TTF has about $3,000 in cash. The foundation owes around $55,000 to an accounting firm, a credit-card company and media that provided advertising for the theater, Schultz said.

The foundation continues to hold the deed to the Turnage but will be in default on the mortgage this year, he said.

Smith said the foundation had raised more than $3.5 million from nearly 1,500 donors, including individuals, corporations and government sponsors.

“Let that be an encouragement to those who dream of reopening our beautiful theater,” he said.

Among the meeting attendees was Washington Mayor Archie Jennings, who noticed “a serious commitment to have the Turnage back in business somehow.”

Jennings repeated his assertion the City of Washington has no plans to fully underwrite or take ownership of the theater.

“The thing we want to be is a supporter of the effort, but we need a winning strategy to get behind,” he said, adding, “The Turnage being dark does not make for as strong a downtown, as strong a community, as when those (marquee) lights are flashing.”