Will the curtain fall on the theater 80 St. Marks? The impending auction could be the final act of the venue – The Village Sun
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | If ever there was a time for a deus ex machina – a wonderful theatrical happy ending – this is it.
Lorcan Otway, the owner of 80 St. Mark’s Theater, says he is in a serious financial bind. He was forced to default on his mortgage due to a creditor’s high interest rate and the pandemic.
“Instead of a foreclosure sale, they are trying to sell the property at auction among us,” he said.
The deadline is imminent – January 30th. That day, Otway said, “They’re going to try to sell the building.”
“She” is an outfit called Maverick Mortgage.
Otway prays that an Ave Maria pass to save the venerable East Village venue could connect: “We beg” [Governor] Kathy Hochul on behalf of us to give us a low-interest loan, ”he said.
The pandemic of mandatory theater closings has been a crippling blow to off-Broadway spaces like Otway’s. Additionally, however, shortly before the onset of COVID, he had just refinanced the property’s mortgage as part of a business expansion plan. As a result, his interest rate skyrocketed from 10 percent to 24 percent, but at a time when the theater was closed and his tavern was failing due to restrictions on indoor dining. That perfect storm created $ 2 million in additional debt in the past year alone.
The property, at 80 St. Mark’s Place, between First and Second Avenues, not only includes the theater, but also the William Barnacle Tavern, the Museum of the American Gangster and a Foxface sandwich shop, as well as a bed and breakfast. The complex has been owned by the Otways family for 57 years. Otway runs it today with his wife Genie.
The current owner remembers when he was just 9 years old when he helped his father dig the floor of the theater deeper and shovel out dirt to make the space bigger.
When Howard Otway died, he left half of the building to his wife Florence and the other half to a three-way trust owned by Florence and their two children Lorcan and his brother. In 2010, Florence died, creating a series of financial challenges.
First, Otway bought his brother out of the trust fund and paid him a quarter of the building’s value. He also had to pay his mother’s inheritance tax on the property. In short, Otway went from no debt to an ambush behind the financial backball.
Inheritance taxes are just overwhelming, said Otway.
“It has made generational and family businesses very difficult,” he said.
His own predicament aside, the city’s theaters closing is a daunting trend with 75 venues lost in the last 10 years, he said.
“We serve the community,” Otway said. “We work seven days a week and often 18 hours a day. And we do this because we believe that the solutions to what lies ahead now are not political but cultural. New York without an independent small theater is not New York. “
One reason why so many films are made in the Big Apple is because the intimate cinemas are such good training grounds for actors.
If only the government recognized all of this value. Otway said the state should have taken over the theaters’ mortgages during the pandemic as the state prevented them from generating income.
“They should have given low-interest loans to make the theaters whole again,” he said. “We’re paying about $ 6,000 a day in interest. They should have frozen the loans and then we could pay 10 percent interest again. “
Additionally, in the case of Theater 80, Otway thought he was simply heeding the state’s pandemic recommendation to “redesign” the space when he decided to convert it into a cabaret space and add tables for guests, food and drink. It was also hoped that cabaret would “do more per capita”. But the new concept has only slowly caught on because you have to get a liquor license for the cabaret room.
So Otway must now try to raise $ 8 million in a very short time.
“Every little bit helps,” he says. “Most of all, our legal fees are killing us.”
Otway not only hopes for help from Hochul, but ideally envisions a Jeff Bezos-like character riding to the rescue.
“The dream,” he said, “is that a rich person [gets involved] who loves the neighborhood and the arts and understands that seniors shouldn’t be put on the streets for doing what the government asked them to do during the pandemic. “