by Danny Cross
53 days ago
Posted In: News
at 01:22 PM | Permalink
Nonprofit says UC and lessees have failed their charitable purpose
When Mary Emery donated the money to build the Ohio
Mechanics’ Institute in 1908, she stipulated that the building would contain an
assembly hall available to the public. Her charitable trust has been tasked
with ensuring that The Emery Theatre, located in the basement of the building
at the corner of Walnut Street and Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine, is used
for public performances ever since.
The Requiem Project, a nonprofit organization formed
in 2008 to oversee programming and raise money to renovate the
century-old theater, says that’s exactly where the University
of Cincinnati has failed to fulfill the requirements of overseeing the
property, and it is asking the Court of Common Pleas to remove UC from
ownership of the building.
The Requiem Project yesterday filed an amendment to its lawsuit
against UC and lessees of the property housing the Emery Theatre, arguing that
UC and the organizations operating the building have systematically failed
their charitable purpose by allowing the theater to fall into disrepair after
non-use for so many years.
The suit asks the court to award the Requiem Project the
lease under which another nonprofit, the Emery Center Corp. (ECC), is currently
operating the theater via a series of subleases from UC. If UC is removed as
owner, the building could be overseen by the city or another nonprofit
organization and Requiem could sublease from it.
UC assumed control of the building in the 1970s but needed
permission to renovate most of it into apartments because of the charitable
trust’s requirement that the building continue to serve the community. A 1999 court ruling allowed the development but required all profits to be used to renovate the Emery Theatre. Fourteen years later, the apartment operators say there are
multiple mortgages on the property and no profits.
“The Court should remove UC as owner and trustee of the
property, as UC has proved itself an unfit custodian,” the complaint states.
The complaint includes photos of various rundown areas
inside the theater with captions such as, “Closed-off bathrooms. UC’s ‘saving’
The Emery” and “UC’s standard of fiduciary ‘care.’”
the original lawsuit in August here.
The complaint accuses UC, ECC and Emery Center Apartments
Limited Partnership (ECALP) — the for-profit company that oversees the
building’s apartments — of conspiring to breach a 2010 letter of intent that stated ECC would sublease the
theater to Requiem on the same terms as ECC is currently operating the theater. Requiem says the binding letter of intent is still valid and gives its organizers the right to a long-term lease that will allow them to raise money
while operating the theater.
The Requiem’s cofounders, Tina Manchise and Tara Gordon, maintain
in their lawsuit that the ECC and UC are purposely blocking the Requiem from
moving forward with their original plan to incrementally update the 1,600-seat
theater and allow programming to continue during the process.
After signing the letter of intent in 2010, the Requiem
Project temporarily opened the Emery Theatre in 2011 to celebrate the 100-year
anniversary of Mary Emery’s dedication of the theater and to reintroduce the
public to the long-overlooked resource — the theater was modeled after Carnegie
Hall in New York City and is considered “acoustically pure.” It was the home of
the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1912-36 and has hosted the likes of
Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Although UC owns the building, it subleases the building to ECALP, which
subleases the Emery Theatre to ECC. When contacted by CityBeat in August, UC spokesperson Greg Hand declined to comment, only
stating that UC doesn’t have a relationship with the Requiem Project because
its only relationship is with ECALP.
ECC informed Requiem in January that it would not renew its
management agreement “for no cause,” according to the lawsuit, and then asked
Requiem to vacate the building in August.
The complaint also seeks damages related to money Requiem has
invested in the theater and losses caused by the August eviction. It is
schedule for trial in February.