Lawsuit: University of Cincinnati blocking Emery Theater revival

Complicated redevelopment deal led to dispute

CINCINNATI - A nonprofit formed to restore the historic Emery Theater accused the University of Cincinnati Friday of blocking its efforts.

The Requiem Project Inc. sued UC and two corporations with lease rights to the 1,600-seat concert hall, alleging the trio interfered with its fundraising, operations and contractual rights to the property.

A hearing for an injunction and temporary restraining order is scheduled for Monday afternoon in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. The Requiem Project seeks court orders preventing its eviction and requiring Emery Center Corp. to negotiate a long-term lease with it. Requiem Project founders say the 102-year-old theater is in peril unless the court intervenes.

“It’s been devastating for the Emery,” said Requiem Project co-founder Tara Lindsey Gordon. “The momentum of the investment of thousands of people over the last few years has been stalled. The theater is now closed … and there’s no lease in place to allow us to accept capital donations.”

The Emery Theater is a performance hall known nationally for its acoustical purity. Designed by famous Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford, the Emery is part of the former Ohio Mechanics Institute building on Central Parkway between Walnut and Main streets. The building was funded by Mary Emery, who was known as Cincinnati’s “Lady Bountiful” for investing her family’s chemical and real estate fortunes into local philanthropy.

The legal dispute dates back to a complicated deal in the late 1990s that led to the redevelopment of the old Mechanics Institute, which UC has owned since the 1970s. In 1999, UC signed a 40-year lease with Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership, a for-profit company that operates 59 apartment units in the building. The partnership then subleased the theater to Emery Center Corp., a nonprofit that partnered with the Requiem Project in 2010 to revive the theater.

The Requiem Project was founded by two New Yorkers who relocated to Cincinnati to bring the historic gem back to life. Gordon is Requiem Project's artistic executive director. Tina Manchise, the nonprofit's president, is a graduate of UC's College Conservatory of Music. 

The Requiem Project says a 2010 letter of intent requires Emery Center Corp. to enter into a long-term lease and collaborate on fundraising. The lawsuit alleges Emery Center has refused to do either, blaming delays on UC.

“They have been asking the university to intervene,” said UC Spokesman Greg Hand.  “We have declined because we do not have a lease agreement with Requiem Project or the Emery Center Corp. Our agreements are with the Emery Center Apartments LP. We’re not getting involved in their dispute.”

Emery Center Corp.'s chairman and legal counsel did not return calls Friday.

The Requiem Project says it has raised more than $1 million for theater operations and secured capital pledges of more than $500,000. It also staged dozens of events that drew more than 10,000 people to the long-dormant Emery. Its plan for the renovation of the Emery Theater would cost up to $25 million, including an operating endowment for maintenance and operations.

It hopes to complete a partial renovation of the theater for $3 million to $5 million and use events and concerts to generate revenue and donor interest for a full renovation.

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