Landlord suing Ocean State Theatre Co. for close to $1M

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Court documents obtained by Eyewitness News show the owner and lessor of the Warwick building that housed Ocean State Theatre Company is taking the performing arts organization to court.

According to a formal complaint and eviction notice filed on May 19, Mutual Properties 1245 Jefferson LLC, the building’s owner, said the theater company owes $860,908.58 in back rent and additional charges as of May 17.

The complaint said OSTC was responsible for paying $21,114 per month in rent and additional charges, which suggests the theater company neglected to pay the equivalent of more than three years of rent. The organization has been leasing the converted garage on Jefferson Boulevard since 2012.

The complaint said Mutual Properties seeks possession of the building, as well as back rent and additional rent totaling $860,908.58. The landlord is also seeking interest, costs and attorneys fees.

Court documents show a seven-day summons was issued on Wednesday, but had not yet been served to OSTC.

On Tuesday, the theater announced its abrupt closure, citing ongoing financial difficulties and a failure to negotiate a new lease agreement with the landlord. The theater’s leaders also said a third-party’s attempt to buy the building failed.

On Wednesday, Mutual Properties’ managing member, Stephen Soscia, issued this statement:

“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. 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, Amie 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.”

Tax filings from 2014 show the theater was more than $2.2 million in debt at the time.

In a statement, OSTC’s board of directors chairman Andrew Cohen said the theater’s financial situation has been “challenging for several years,” citing debt incurred when OSTC left Theatre by the Sea in 2012 when that facility’s now-producer, Bill Hanney, took the reins there. At the time OSTC had been the producing entity at the Matunuck summer theater since its reopening in 2007.

On Tuesday, the theater’s leaders announced they were cancelling their summer season, which included the musicals “Clue” and “Shrek.” It’s unclear what will become of their summer camp for children.

It also remains unclear if refunds will be offered to patrons. In Tuesday’s news release, the theater said all patron records will be retained until they can determine “what remediation will be offered.”

There has been no indication yet of whether a new producing entity will step in take over the Warwick theater, or if OSTC will seek to relocate.

Eyewitness News attempted to reach the theater for further comment Wednesday but so far has not heard back.