Turnage going up for auction

Published 11:15 pm Thursday, September 27, 2012

A public auction on the courthouse steps will determine the fate of the Turnage Theater.
The auction date is set for Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Beaufort County Courthouse. The theater will be sold “as is” in an upset bid process and already there’s a movement afoot to “save the Turnage” and return the theater to a broader community ownership.
Representatives from city and county government, the Beaufort County Arts Council and Washington Harbor District Alliance, the Turnage Theaters Foundation and interested citizens met Thursday afternoon at Brown Library to find the most viable way to recover ownership and get the Turnage Theater’s marquee lit once again.
“How do we regain control of the Turnage as a community?” asked Archie Jennings, Mayor of Washington.
The resulting discussion covered private ownership, public ownership and the varying shades of gray between the two. Jennings stated while the city does not yet have an official position on the Turnage’s imminent sale, Washington’s City Council will take it up during the next council meeting on Oct. 8.
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.
“(The Turnage) should be a multipurpose facility getting revenue from a lot of different places,” said Laura Scoble, owner of Backwater Jack’s Tiki Bar and Grill, and community arts facilitator.
Scoble was the first to suggest that an entity like the Beaufort County Arts Council would be ideal for either a stewardship or lessee role should local government choose to take action at the upcoming sale.
The Turnage shut its doors in December of 2011 when it became apparent the theater’s burden of debt prohibited operation. According to Bob Schultz, treasurer of the Turnage Theaters Foundation, $85,000 per year, alone, was owed on the interest-only mortgage. Two years ago, the Turnage property was appraised by the county at $1,764,163, but it is generally held that the theater will sell at a fraction of that amount.
While Foundation officers were prepared for a January 2013 action to foreclose, a Sept. 21 hearing set the ball in motion ahead of schedule: the trustee, on behalf of the mortgage holders, appeared before the Clerk of Court and petitioned for authorization to proceed into foreclosure and to advertise notice of the sale of the theater. Now community leaders are stepping up efforts to recover the Turnage and the economic engine it could represent to downtown Washington.
In addition to putting the sale of Turnage Theater on the agenda for the next city council meeting, city and county managers Josh Kay and Randell Woodruff will be meeting with WHDA and BCAC leadership.
“We certainly feel that it’s imperative to get the Turnage up and running,” said Joey Toler, executive director of the BCAC, adding that the theater plays a critical role in the arts community infrastructure. “Any role we can play—we’re willing to have the conversation and willing to do whatever we can do.”