Wednesday, June 15, 2011

City made verbal offer to buy Le Petit Theatre for NORD programming

Posted By on Wed, Jun 15, 2011 at 5:57 PM

At last week's press conference announcing the sale of 60 percent of Le Petit Theatre to restaurateur Dickie Brennan, board president Cassie Steck Worley mentioned the theater board "had discussions with representatives of the City of New Orleans ... While Le Petit would have been granted a long-term lease, the theater would forfeit all ownership of the building."

On Monday, Gambit sent the Landrieu administration an email asking the following:

- The Le Petit board says the City of New Orleans proposed to buy the building outright and offer a long-term lease to Le Petit. True?

- If so, when did this happen?

- How far into negotiations did the City get?

- Who was doing the negotiating?

This afternoon, Ryan Berni, spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, wrote, "The administration was approached by members of the Board at some point. We were interested in the possibility of using Le Petit for NORDC [New Orleans Recreation Development Commission] programming and to create a theater center. We got to the point of making a verbal offer which was declined." Berni clarified soon after: "it was discussions with board members and not a formal presentation to the full board." Asked whether the "theater center" would have been a somehow reimagined Le Petit with the current board, and how much the city was willing to pay for the building, Berni declined comment.

Meanwhile, the bitter feud between the theater's board of governors and its support guild rages on. Late this afternoon, the theater's guild announced it had obtained a temporary restraining order halting the sale of the building to Brennan.

WWL-TV reports tonight Save Le Petit will hold a rally at 6 p.m. on June 21 at the Columns Hotel, and the two sides will meet in court June 24.

Gary Solomon Jr.
  • Gary Solomon Jr.
Gambit has also obtained documentation about another rejected offer — this one made Mon., June 13, four days after the Brennan deal was announced. The proposal was from Gary Solomon Jr., former Le Petit artistic director, and his father, entrepreneur Gary Solomon Sr., and involved purchase of the building's mortgage "and holding it for five years without payments. At the end of the fifth year, the debt would be forgiven one-fifth of the outstanding amount for each year up to five more years, provided the entire Le Petit Theatre facility ... continues to operate as a theatre for the community." The Solomon offer also included "100 percent of the building in the theatre's control" and a five-year, $1.25 million endowment for "operating costs."

In a letter the next day regarding the offer, board member Michael S. Mitchell said the board had "decided to reject it for a variety of reasons," including the fact that management of the theater was not addressed ("Would the current board continue in that role?") and the "angel" investors were not identified by name ("We prefer to know who we're dealing with"). Mitchell's letter also notes the offer was made "at the last possible moment," and concludes, "Frankly, we are disinclined to enter into business dealings with someone who has recently threatened to sue us."

The theater's buyer, meanwhile, has been keeping a low profile; Brennan was not at the press conference announcing the sale, and his representatives have not returned emails about his purchase of the theater or his plans for a restaurant there.

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