New theater rumored to be eying closed OSTC
The Ocean State Theatre Co. Inc. has closed as tenants of the former garage converted into a theatre on Jefferson Boulevard, but reports say it wouldn’t remain dormant.
According to reliable sources, Bill Hanney plans to reopen the theatre as the Ocean State Musical Theatre. Hanney is well known in theater circles and is the owner of Theatre By the Sea. He could not be reached for comment.
On Tuesday word in the artistic community traveled rapidly as Jason Loete at OSTC emailed performers scheduled for appearances that the company was suspending all further engagements. By that evening OSTC issued a press release that its board of directors voted Monday night that “ongoing financial struggles are forcing Ocean State Theatre Co, Inc. [OSTC] to immediately close the theatre on Jefferson Blvd., cancel its summer programs, and suspend the fall mainstage season. The future of the theatre company is under evaluation.”
The company reportedly has left a string of bills, owing Mutual Properties that owns the property a reported $250,000 in unpaid rent.
News of the closure rippled through the community. Mayor Scott Avedisian called the theater a “valued part of the community.” In an effort to support the theater and introduce it to the community, apart from being an ideal location, Avedisian held his 2014 inauguration at the theater.
Asked about future use of the property, Avedisian said, “I’m hopeful for an artistic presence in that building.
Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi, who owns the adjoining property and rents parking to the company, was likewise dismayed. While, he said, the company is current on its payments to him, he knew of their financial problems and that eventually the debt became “insurmountable.”
In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Stephen Soscia, managing member of Mutual Properties, said, "We regret the decision made by Ocean State Theatre to abruptly close its doors. We worked cooperatively with them for the five years they were our tenant, and on several occasions restructured their 21-year lease to de minimis rental amounts to meet their cash flow. In short, we afforded them every opportunity to restructure their obligations, which today exceed one million dollars and assist them with a smooth, seamless transition to insure their future success. In the end, however, they were unable to do so.”
In the press release, Andrew Cohen, chairman of the Board of Directors for Ocean State Theatre Company, said, “It was a heartbreaking decision for those of us who are passionate about OSTC. Particularly after what is undoubtedly the best artistic season we have ever had.”
The release said that OSTC the organization “simply could not come to terms with the owner of the building, while re-negotiating new lease terms and debt structure. Additionally, a third party, on behalf of OSTC, had been negotiating to purchase the building for a few months now, however, those negotiations were not successful.”
Cohen said that the company's financial situation has been challenging for several years, in large part due to the impact of debt incurred when the company was forced to vacate Theatre By The Sea during construction of the Warwick theatre.
The release went on to say the nonprofit theatre had hoped that the strong start to their 2016-17 Season, which has shown a tangible increase in tickets sales, would attract more corporate sponsors, state and federal funding, and private donations to better support its ongoing programming.
“Ocean State Theatre Company is proud to have a group of individuals who have tirelessly supported the organization,” Cohen said in the release. “We also have a great team, which has been working diligently to find a path to success to meet our obligations. Time just ran out. We are eternally grateful to the supporters who have been there for us, our fellow artists, our audiences and our backers. We will always be proud of first re-opening the shuttered Theatre By The Sea in 2007, and the development of our current location in 2012, offering an additional quality theatrical venue to the State of Rhode Island.
All patron records are being retained until such time as it can be determined what remediation will be offered.
Soscia said in his statement, “As their single largest donor, we were surprised by their abrupt closure as we had been informed that they intended to remain through July of this year, and then would relocate to another location. Several attempts to meet with artistic director, Amiee Turner, yesterday were unsuccessful and we later learned she was on route to North Carolina. Mutual Properties remains supportive of a vibrant arts community in Rhode Island."