The final curtain?

Landlord evicts the Right Now Foundation from the Senator Theater

TWO-ACT PLAY<br>Building owner Eric Hart, videotapes the inside of the Senator.

Building owner Eric Hart, videotapes the inside of the Senator.

Photo By Tom Angel

Will the show go on?
Right Now Foundation President Richard Elsom has asked the Chico City Council to place on its agenda a discussion to see if the foundation has other options in pursuing the purchase of the Senator.

On a cool Wednesday afternoon, May 14, theater entrepreneur DNA sat on the red-carpet steps in the lobby of the Senator Theater and refused to admit defeat. He’d just been served a three-day eviction notice by his landlord, Eric Hart.

Without a signed purchase agreement and with nearly two years of unpaid back rent, Hart wanted DNA’s Right Now Foundation out of the building it had hoped to make into a community arts theater.

Hart had come with video recorder in hand to document the interior of the building. When DNA initially balked, Hart called the Chico Police Department, which responded with two officers.

“The problem is we’re still negotiating the purchase, and now Eric is pissed about some things,” DNA explained as the two cops looked on in bemused appreciation.

The nut of the problem is that. after a few years of negotiations, the two sides cannot come to a purchase agreement.

“We don’t want to involve the community in a deal that is bad for the community,” DNA said.

Hart said he’s tired of carrying the foundation.

“We’ve been negotiating for a year and a half, and they’ve failed to sign, pay the rent or even insure if they can work out their end of the deal,” he said. “They’ve done a good job and put in a lot of hard work, but I’m taking a risk giving these guys with no assets a $1 million building.”

DNA, the theater’s manager, below, waits in the lobby.

Photo By Tom Angel

DNA says he and his partner have sunk $75,000 of their own money and countless hours of labor into the building.

About a year ago, Hart asked the city for a loan to fix up the 76-year-old building. He said in a letter that it would cost $319,000 to restore the exterior, including painting, new awnings and restoration of the marquee and about $185,000 to replace the tower that had been removed a few years earlier.

Hart originally asked for a $925,000 loan, saying he still owed $644,000 on the building, which he said is worth more than $1.4 million. Hart was trying to sell the theater half of the building for $750,000. The rest of the building consists of ground-floor commercial space and second-story apartment space.

The city agreed to lend Hart $240,000. The Right Now Foundation was granted a $200,000 loan in the form of a forgivable grant to assist in the purchase of the theater.

If the foundation buys the theater and defaults on its forgivable grant, the city gets the theater.

“Our whole goal was to negotiate the best possible deal for the community,” DNA said. “[Hart] wants to make $1 million profit. We purchase the theater for $750,000 and he keeps the other half of the building and the parking lot. He’s said the commercial side is worth $1 million, and the parking lot is worth a lot of money as well.

“He wants to make $1 million on the community center. We’re not going to sign that. We’re leading the community astray if we do.”

Hart, according to a source who wants to remain anonymous, offered a deal that would carry the $550,000 balance at an 8 percent interest.

For his part, newly hired foundation President Richard Elsom issued an upbeat statement on the current situation: “The Right Now Foundation continues to labor behind the scenes in good faith to purchase the historic Senator Theatre. The dream of a Community Performing Arts Center in the Senator Theatre is too great a dream to let die.”

The day of the eviction, the ever-optimistic DNA noted from the sidewalk in front of the old movie house: "Hey, it’s theater. It’s supposed to have drama."