Monday, December 27, 2010

Shadow landlord: Company must vacate building on Dayton Street

AURORA | The investment company that owns the Shadow Theatre Company’s building on Dayton Street in Aurora has demanded the company vacate, officials announced Monday.
According to Michael Rasser, a principal and managing partner at Cornerstone Equity LLC, the decision to evict the Shadow Theatre from the 9,400-square-foot building off East Colfax Avenue came after the company continually failed to pay its $7,500 monthly rent. The financial problems began in earnest in 2009, after the company’s founder and creative director Jeffrey Nickelson resigned from his position, citing exhaustion and later massive debt. Nickelson founded the Shadow in 1997; it's the region's oldest black theater company.

Nickelson died from a heart attack in September, 2008.
“We’ve struggled ever since Jeffrey’s passing. The city had really thrown their support into the Shadow emotionally as well as financially ... There’s been a lot of board of director changes, we’ve hung (with) them, hoping they’d get on their feet,” said Cornerstone Principal and Managing Partner Michael Rasser. “We’ve had to subsidize the Shadow ... for so much since that middle of 2009, that it just got to the point where we can’t continue. It’s really been extremely financially draining on us.”
Nickelson moved the Shadow’s center of operations from its original home at the Emerson Center in Denver to its new digs in Aurora in 2008, a transition that drew on a $250,000 loan from the city and commitments from Cornerstone Equity. Since opening, the Shadow failed to attract a big enough audience to match the conditions of the loan, and they remained thousands of dollars behind in their rent.
Rasser wouldn’t specify how much the theater owed in back rent, but he called the figure “substantial.”
Shadow board members Peter Cukale and Michael Hancock had just learned of the eviction Monday morning. Shadow Creative Director Hugo Jon Sayles said company staff had just learned of Cornerstone Equity’s decision.
“Right now, I really don’t have a comment. I don’t know the ins and outs of everything. It’s an epiphany to me,” Sayles said. “I need to talk to my board.”
Earlier this year, Keith Hatten abruptly resigned from his position as the theater’s creative director, citing creative conflicts with the its newly formed board of directors. Hatten had taken over as the Shadow’s artistic director in 2009, filling the post left vacant unexpectedly by Jeffrey Nickelson. Before he died from a heart attack in September 2009, Nickelson had attributed his departure partly to the financial pressure of keeping the theater open.
The drama didn’t end with the naming of Shadow veteran Hugo Jon Sayles as the theater’s new creative director in March. After the opening night premiere of “Simply Simone,” a biography of jazz chanteuse Nina Simone and the last play in the theater’s 13th season, the theater canceled the rest of the musical’s run. Board members and Shadow staff cited confusion with legal contracts and rights related to the play’s script and soundtrack.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back has happened 50 times,” Rasser said. “We did let them know we can’t subsidize continually with no hope that it’s going to end. We kept them alive for all these months.”
Rasser said Cornerstone hoped to meet with Shadow staff this week to finalize a schedule for the vacancy. He said Cornerstone would like to keep the building’s function as a theater and performing arts center with a new client.
“It’s important to have that performing arts center in Aurora,” Rasser said. “Along with the efforts of the Aurora Fox theater ... that it gets its footing as a real theater district, which would be complimentary to everyone.”
Aurora Fox Executive Producer Charles Packard said the arrival of the Shadow in 2008 was a boon for the fledgling arts district in Original Aurora, an area that’s seen its share of revolving storefronts and failed attempts at new art spaces.
“When Shadow came to the neighborhood I thought it was a wonderful boost to us. I can’t put a dollar amount on it ... You can feel the energy in the neighborhood. You can feel the neighborhood edging toward that critical mass that will truly make it an arts district,” Packard said. “Losing Shadow would be a significant slide backwards and very sad. People sometimes misunderstand the relationship between theaters ... I don’t know how many dozens of times people have asked me about competition — there is no competition.
“(We’re) all properly niched. Together, we provide arts to the community. We don’t fight with each other,” Packard added.

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