Turnage sale in negotiation

Published 3:03 am Saturday, August 3, 2013

LIGHT IT UP: Two buyers placed recent bids on downtown Washington’s Turnage Theater, which has been dark since December 2011.  MONA MOORE DAILY NEWS

LIGHT IT UP: Two buyers placed recent bids on downtown Washington’s Turnage Theater, which has been dark since December 2011.

A year and a half has passed since Washington’s Turnage Theater went dark, but according to a few people who have been working behind the scenes, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.
A flurry of recent activity around the historic theater — restored, reopened and closed again over a 15-year period — has one local agency hopeful of a partnership and another, non-local, entity in negotiations to buy the theater.
In July, the Beaufort County Arts Council, with the support of a major donor and arts supporter, put in a bid to buy the Turnage Theater, handing over a business plan that outlined how the arts council would create a regional arts center.
“We put together an offer to purchase that we thought was fair,” said arts council chair and attorney John Tate. “It was not quite the appraised value we had gotten, but it was not too far out. We were immediately informed that there was a letter of intent in place from another buyer.”

According to Tate, little is known about the buyer in negotiations with Wells Fargo and USDA, other than the entertainment company is open to community partnerships, an assertion Rich Company listing agent Tom Atkins confirmed.
“I think he’ll be a good corporate neighbor,” Atkins said. “He’s talked about wanting to tie in to the arts council and other civic organizations.”
“If this goes through, if this were to happen, then we are exploring the possibilities of working with this buyer,” Toler said. “But we have no idea what that would look like.”
Toler said he spoke with the theater’s potential buyer Thursday night and spent Friday morning on the phone with representatives from the North Carolina Arts Council, trying to determine if there was a precedent in the state for a nonprofit arts organization running a theater/arts center in partnership with a private facility. He has yet to find a model, but it’s well worth exploring, he said.
“Anything that we can do to facilitate the Turnage being open to the public, we’re willing to jump in and do whatever we can,” Toler said. “That’s the bottom line for me — that the facility is open.”
“Our vision may inform what they do, but it probably won’t be (solely) what they do,” Tate said about a possible partnership. “We’re hopeful they will consider us for some form of involvement whether it’s as big as we had planned, whether we take the place over or a smaller part. But at least we’ve made contact with them and they’ve given us as a very warm reception. We’re encouraged by that.”
Atkins was reticent to give out much information about the ongoing negotiations, but said the details are being ironed out: “It always comes down to details when it comes to buyers and the banks and USDA. USDA kind of has the say so here.”
USDA’s stake comes from a 2006 $2 million loan to the Turnage Theaters Foundation from several banks, including Wells Fargo, to complete renovations of the theater. The loan was guaranteed at 80 percent by the USDA Rural Development Program.
Atkins said he’s been talking to the buyer for quite some time, but BCAC Executive Director Joey Toler said he had spoken to potential buyer Thursday and that he has the arts council’s business plan.