Emery Theatre legal battle: Nonprofit wants UC out as theater owner, seeks damages

University says it wants to see theater restored

CINCINNATI -- A nonprofit that has been working to restore the historic Emery Theatre has asked a Hamilton County judge to lower the curtain on the University of Cincinnati.

In an amended complaint filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas court Oct. 15, The Requiem Project, Inc., asked the court to remove UC from ownership of the building.

The lawsuit also says the Emery Center Corporation, a nonprofit that leases the theater from UC, should be dissolved “for repeated, systematic violations of fiduciary duties by its board resulting in a complete failure of its purpose as a corporation and charity.”

The Requiem Project also seeks damages in the case, which could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Mark Painter, the nonprofit’s lawyer.

“Originally we weren’t going to ask for damages because we just wanted to stay there and continue work,” Painter said. “They’ve basically invested almost five years of work for nothing.”

The Requiem Project first sued UC, the Emery Center Corporation (ECC) and the Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership (ECALP) in August. Requiem argued the three had interfered with its fundraising, operations and contractual rights to the property.

The nonprofit sought a court order preventing its eviction from the historic theater and requiring ECC to negotiate a long-term lease with it.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Carl Stich on Aug. 14 denied the Requiem Project’s request for a temporary restraining order to prevent its eviction.

The judge said at the time, though, that his ruling didn’t “necessarily portend how this case will turn out.”

The Emery Theatre is known for its acoustical purity. It was designed by famous Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford as part of the former Mechanics Institute building on Central Parkway between Walnut and Main streets.

The legal fight dates back to a deal inked in the late 1990s that resulted in the redevelopment of the old Mechanics Institute, which UC has owned since 1969.

UC: We Want To Work With Community

Although UC owns the building, the university in 1999 signed a 40-year lease with ECALP, the for-profit company that operates 59 apartments in the building.

ECALP, in turn, subleased the theater to ECC, a charity that partnered with the Requiem Project in 2010 to revive the historic theater.

UC maintains that it has “no contractual connection at all to the complainant,” said university spokesman Greg Hand.

“The university’s desire is to work with the community to restore the OMI building, including the Emery Theatre,” he said.

Hand has said in the past that UC has considered donating the theater to the city.

The amended complaint also adds Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine as a defendant in the matter since his office has the authority to dissolve the ECC charity in cooperation with the court, Painter said.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for February. But Painter said that could be delayed because the complaint has been expanded.

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