‘We save neighborhoods and communities not just buildings’
Could a Chicago-based historic theatre property consultant come to the rescue of the 1938 vaudeville-style Culpeper State Theatre, which is in foreclosure and set to go on the auction block next Wednesday?
“From what I read and surmise the loans and bad programming drove this project into a failure,” says Paul Warshauer, a founder of Wheaton, Ill.’s Grande Venues, Inc. (GVI), who tells the Rappahannock News that he is anxious to “come to town and try to save the place.”
GVI’s strategy for historic theatres like the one in Culpeper is to create a programming format that provides quality entertainment without the high risk of continually hiring top talent acts. Although top talent is not excluded from a typical GVI programming format, they are presented in sparing fashion.
“GVI focuses on specific categories of live entertainment and movies that appeal to a broader audience — kid’s programs, classic movies, vaudeville style acts, cultural music, and teen band concerts among many others,” the company states. “It is GVI’s opinion that performing arts and other forms of entertainment truly need to be integrated into the community in order for today’s theatres to succeed.”
Warshauer contacted the Rappahannock News late last week for further information surrounding the State Theatre, explaining his messages left for the theatre’s volunteer board of directors, including chair Jerry Whitlock, went unanswered. Whitlock also did not return previous calls from this newspaper.
The consultant said his staff read about the theatre’s financial straits in this past week’s e-edition of the Rappahannock News.
Warshauer and his business partner Mike Novelli created the company, according to a business profile, “because they shared a deep passion for preserving historic theatres as well as promoting live performing arts.”
“Our particular specialty is in developing theatre, school and hotel properties with individuals . . . small local companies, not-for-profit clients and municipalities,” the company states.
“We save neighborhoods and communities not just buildings.”
GVI says it serves to fill a growing need for historic property experts and developers to revitalize many projects across the country like in Culpeper, taking “a practical approach in determining the viability of a property. Rather than spec out any building improvements or changes, GVI focuses attention on developing a successful business and programming format rather than on the bricks and the mortar.”
The bricks and mortar of the State Theatre could hardly be in better shape. The 500-seat showhouse underwent a reported $13 million restoration in 2013.
This newspaper wrote of the Culpeper theatre’s demise upon learning that unnamed individuals from Rappahannock County had generously opened their wallets to keep the historic property afloat. Details were first reported by the Culpeper Star-Exponent.
Although their identities are not known, the Rappahannock residents reportedly made a total of $5 million dollars in loans to the theatre on two separate occasions, the newspaper reported, once through a limited liability company, Melbell, LLC, which was organized on March 9, 2011.
“As the attorney that was involved for both of the lenders to the State Theatre any of my information is confidential and I wouldn’t be at liberty to disclose any identities with respect to Melbell, LLC,” Washington attorney Michael T. Brown told the Rappahannock News. “That’s the reason that was done through an LLC, so that the identity would not be a matter of public record.”
As is customary, the LLC lists as its address Brown’s firm, Walker Jones Law, 211-A Main Street, Washington.
“Dear Culpeper Community,” a large notice from last September reads on the door of the theatre. “It is with great sadness that the State Theatre Foundation Board of Directors announce that we will be suspending the operations of the theatre until further notice . . .
“We had hoped that with the changes in staffing, our new direction of diverse programming, and our community partnerships and educational outreach that we would be able to create renewed interest for the community and the region to provide the contributed income necessary to sustain operations. Unfortunately, while we saw a trend of positive results, we fell short of our fundraising goals to keep us moving forward . . .”