City interested in Turnage

Published 9:27 pm Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The City of Washington has given written notice of its interest in purchasing the Turnage Theater in downtown Washington.
Wednesday, 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 asserts is 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.
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.
Now, the city is making a bid for another revival. The letter from the city requests consideration of a cash offer of $150,000 to purchase the property, but the offer does come with contingencies.
First, if purchased, the deed is to be transferred free and clear of all liens and encumbrances that involve Turnage Manager, LLC; Turnage Lessor, LLC, Turnage Master Tenant, LLC or any other division of the current or previous Turnage operations — including elimination and/or cancellation of any and all deeds of trust, promissory notes, leases and agreements.
The second contingency is that the North Carolina Historic Preservation waives right of first refusal on the property. Any approval of the purchase must be granted by the City Council in accordance of the law — meaning public meetings and a public vote — is the third contingency.
“Should the city take control of (the Turnage Theater), they’d have to have a public vote,” Kay said, 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.
“Those are the major priorities in all of our discussions,” Kay said.
In the letter, Kay asks that the city’s past major investment in the property be taken into consideration as the offer is reviewed. Over the past five years, the city has provided over $600,000 of financial backing for the reduction of the theater’s mortgage and general operations.
Kay said he will continue discussions with bank and USDA officials up to and after Monday, the date set for the Turnage to be auctioned on the courthouse steps. Kay noted that city’s interests would be better served if its offer were accepted before the auction date, as the requirements outlined in the city’s letter of intent may not be met at the sale.
“It’s working its way through the process, but it’s still slated for a foreclosure sale on Nov. 5,” Kay said. “As of right now, we’re following this through. … We’re still working angles.”