According to Woodstock Arts Board President Joan Roberts, who has been the public face for the struggling cultural venue in the town’s gateway district — established to help protect the site of the town’s key theater since the 1930s — the current situation’s been threatened for months. But it was only in March that letters formalizing procedures were sent to her and placed on the Playhouse’s temporary outdoor theater structure just off Mill Hill Road.
“We’ve got about $410,000 out in mortgages,” Roberts explained, noting that of that, $76,000 was at Rondout Savings, whose local branch manager is on the current WAB Board of Directors. “We haven’t paid the mortgage in a long time.”
In an initial e-mail confirming what people have been talking about for weeks in town, but Roberts had been loathe to address, she noted that, “Yes — Ulster Savings Bank has begun foreclosure proceedings against the Playhouse.”
She went on to explain, in her estimation, what happened.
“Due to lower than budgeted ticket sales, individual donations, etc., we were able to present an abbreviated season for 2009. We earned enough to keep abreast of most of our bills — but not the mortgages,” Roberts wrote. “The fundraisers did okay — like the Garden Tour. But one of our best fundraisers — the Chef’s Dinner — couldn’t get off the ground. Ticket sales were sparse and just about covered costs. The music events were rentals, so the ticket money belonged to the act. The children’s shows did well, but that doesn’t keep the building open. The electric bill soared last summer as did the water and sewer bills.”
Speaking as best he could about the Playhouse situation this week, Ulster Savings Bank Executive Vice President Mike Shaughnessy said that it was the bank’s wish to ensure another not-for-profit takes over the place, with its use remaining community-oriented.
“We’re not looking to somehow make a profit on the property,” the Woodstock resident added, noting that until foreclosure is completed by the courts, the property remains in the hands of its current owners, and mortgagees, the Woodstock Arts Board. “Some people have asked us about it…”
Shaughnessy said that, legally, he couldn’t go into any details about the Playhouse or its foreclosure. But he reiterated several times he and the bank’s willingness to work with Roberts, WAB, and anyone who came forward with the community future of the Playhouse property in mind.
As for the timeline of the current foreclosure process, he added that such matters were in the hands of the New York Court system, which was currently taking well over a year to complete such actions.
“We are hoping that sometime in the course of this, things will be resolved,” Shaughnessy concluded.
Costs and code violations
Attorney Jim Lonergan, who served as a Woodstock Arts Board trustee for 10 years during its inauguration and purchase of the Playhouse property, said that he is also restricted in what he could say about what’s happening, since he’s now serving as the foreclosure attorney for Ulster Savings in the current matter.
Roberts noted, separately, that Lonergan had previously served as the Arts Board’s pro bono lawyer, which put her in something of a pickle, and attorney-less, during the current crisis.
Lonergan said he last served on the WAB board seven or eight years ago, and “hasn’t kept up with them” since his departure.
“I don’t know how it would be salvageable without a plan,” he said, explaining how foreclosure can only be held off with strong repayment plans in place. “I don’t know what the Arts Board can do right now.”
Along with Roberts, the WAB Board of Directors currently consists of Alex Sharpe, Elli Michaels, Maxine Rossella, Pam Marvin, and Sheehan Crozier.
“There is support, but not enough for what we have to do,” Roberts said of the Playhouse’s current predicament. She explained how the organization had a $250,000 mortgage when she came on board seven years ago. A $100,000 grant was funneled to the WAB by state Senator John Bonacic for helping enclose the temporary outdoor stage designed by Les Walker…but then things took longer than expected to get through the town’s planning process, and prices went up exponentially.
“We had code violations that must have cost us $50,000 by the time we’d corrected them,” she recalled. “We had a great fundraiser with Paul Newman, but then we had to start borrowing because the cost of everything doubled.”
Furthermore, Roberts said, she started having problems booking the place. The weather was unpredictable, and not conducive to live theater. Music acts ran into opposition from neighbors worried about the way sound carried through the neighborhood.
“The vision for the Playhouse has always been great, but vision isn’t enough,” she added. “We talked about putting something up on the website to let people know what was happening but figured that people are tired of hearing about Playhouse troubles. It’s been a grassroots effort at best from the start and perhaps Woodstock just doesn’t have the interest in preserving this site after all. I know there’s a nucleus of people who feel very strongly about re-building, but I’m beginning to think that nucleus just isn’t enough.”
On the Playhouse website, besides pictures and blurbs on last summer’s shows, is a statement that announcements about what’s being planned for this coming Summer of 2010 are pending.
But Roberts said nothing’s being planned now. Except the survival of the Woodstock Arts Board, which still owns equipment. And needs a new mission, if now split from its Playhouse.
“I’m asking myself why I’m banging my head against the wall on any of this if no one cares?” she added.
Meanwhile, Shaughnessy said he was still hopeful something would come into view over the coming year. And Lonergan recalled past times when the revival of the old Playhouse, which burned in 1988 under suspicious circumstances, seemed not only doable but imminent.
“This is certainly tragic, given the time, energy and thought that’s gone into this project over the years,” he said. “I just don’t see how they can survive given the climate we’re all in now.”++