BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Kenny Toglia, who leads the Guardians of Loisaida and has been fighting to return the old P.S. 64 on E. Ninth Street to community use, is now pivoting his efforts to publicize the plight of another local cultural touchstone, St. Mark’s Theatre 80.
The iconic East Village venue is in bankruptcy reorganization, with an estimated debt of more than $12 million from what its owner, Lorcan Otway, has condemned as predatory loans from Maverick Real Estate Partners. He and his wife, Genie Otway, have been ordered to vacate the premises by Wed., April 5.
Toglia is organizing a costume rally — “come as your favorite theater character” — at City Hall on Thurs., March 30, from noon to 2 p.m., to speak out about both the old P.S. 64 and Theatre 80 situations. (A scheduled auction of the old P.S. 64 , the former CHARAS/El Bohio Cultural and Community Center, was recently averted after the building’s owner, Gregg Singer, declared bankruptcy.) In addition, on Wed., April 5, there will be an all-day protest at the theater, at 80 St. Mark’s Place.
Lorcan Otway said the fate of his quirky East Village venue is symptomatic of larger trends sweeping not only the city but the whole country.
“Middle-class property in America is being bought by the superwealthy,” he railed. “[Governor] Hochul is more focused on bringing casinos to New York City, making it into Las Vegas. It’s the old emperors’ idea of ‘bread and circuses’ — distraction of the public. … The fear is we are losing New York as the theater capital.”
There should be a theater strike to protest government’s lack of aid for distressed venues, he declared. Forcing theaters to close their doors during COVID — while simultaneously not giving them a break on crushing property taxes — was simply criminal and has amounted to a virtual “taking,” he said. Theatre 80 had to pay $167,000 in property taxes two years in a row during the pandemic, which was only partially offset by $200,000 in federal aid.
Speaking more than a month ago, Otway said the theater had a “conditional” $5 million commitment (there is a specific way this must be phrased due to the bankruptcy) but still needed to raise $7.2 million by a deadline that has now already passed.
“We have half the money between our two benefactors,” he said. “We have a conditional promise of $5 million.”
The Otways are still hoping that one or more angel investors will step in to put up the needed funds to save the venerable theater.
Genie Otway, who is an attorney, recently has been doing the legal work to try to save the embattled theater. Although she doesn’t have specific training as a bankruptcy attorney, Lorcan said they have no other choice since, “We don’t have the money for one.”
The trustee handling the Chapter 11 reorganization won’t allow them to accept any revenue at this point, for example, forbidding a film shoot inside the place that would have netted the Otways $50,000.
Lorcan Otway has resided there since age 9, before that living on, as he put it, “a small subsistence farm in Westchester.”
A city marshal will evict the Otways if something is not worked out by the deadline.
“I’ve lived there 58 years,” Otway said. “If we have not left the building on April 5, the trustee will pull us out at gunpoint. It is exactly like the Indian land removal.”
Losing the building means the couple would lose $15 million “in security,” he said.
If, however, they can work something out, Lorcan said the plan is for the place to become a nonprofit, with him as the curator and manager.
“We would be able to live there,” he said, “and continue making it a resource for the community.”
They never should have stopped showing old movies; theaters like Film Forum, Anthology, Alamo and Metrograph all survived the pandemic by having Zoom showings, and it kept them afloat.
Another EV icon scheduled for destruction. What a shame.
Praying for an “angel” — I know you’re out there.
Becoming a nonprofit would be wonderful.
My son, a Cooper Union student, and his friends, love that place. Praying it stays open.