Orpheum Theater up for sale again for $2 million

3 / 16 The ground floor seats have been removed, but the old wood flooring is solid.(Photo by Dinah Rogers, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune)

By Katherine Sayre, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

 

 3 / 16 The ground floor seats have been removed, but the old wood flooring is solid.(Photo by Dinah Rogers, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune)
The ground floor seats have been removed, but the old wood flooring is solid.(Photo by Dinah Rogers, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune)

Disgruntled investors in the long-shuttered Orpheum Theater have taken ownership of the historic property and put it up for sale for the third time in eight years. The 1921 beaux-arts theater, left largely untouched since Hurricane Katrina despite promises of renovation and revival, was listed on the market for $2 million Friday.

Orpheum Recovery Group LLC, which represents debt holders in the theater, filed a lawsuit in 2011 against the current and former owners of the theater. The investors from across the country sought to recoup their money, complaining they had gone years with no signs of renovation progress and no return on their investment. The lawsuit in Orleans Parish Civil District Court was settled out of court in June.

Kirk Reasonover, a lawyer representing Orpheum Recovery Group, said Friday that he can’t disclose the terms of the settlement.

Court records show that Orpheum Recovery Group received the

 4 / 16 Wood carving and paster details remain in the ceiling of the Orpheum Theater Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. (Photo by Dinah Rogers, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune)

Wood carving and paster details remain in the ceiling of the Orpheum Theater Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. (Photo by Dinah Rogers, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune)

property as a donation from the previous owner, 129 University Place LLC, in May.

The new owners have hired commercial real estate broker Don Randon to market the theater. A for-sale sign was posted over the theater’s marquee Friday, and one group of potential buyers has already paid a visit.

The Orpheum, on University Place across from the Roosevelt Hotel, opened in 1921 for vaudeville acts. In the decades since, the 1,750-seat theater played host to silent films and talkies, dance reviews and live music acts. It was home to the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra until Katrina, when the orchestra moved onto the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts.

About a foot of water pushed into the Orpheum during the 2005 storm, flooding the basement. Since then, every row of seats on the ground floor has been removed, leaving only a vast wood floor. The decorative walls and ceilings have peeled. Previous owners at one point replaced the roof and sealed off openings in the building.

Keith Geers of Keith's Maintenance & Repairs hangs a for sale sign on the front of the Orpheum Theater for Don Randon Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. (Photo by Dinah Rogers, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune)
Keith Geers of Keith’s Maintenance & Repairs hangs a for sale sign on the front of the Orpheum Theater for Don Randon Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. (Photo by Dinah Rogers, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune)

Randon said he estimates a full restoration would cost between $10 million and $15 million, although investors could qualify for historic and new market tax credits to help fund the work, an attractive aspect for developers. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

“It has fabulous acoustics,” Randon said. “Because of its design, the acoustics are just incredible. The Philharmonic Orchestra really liked that.”

Sean Snyder, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra director of marketing and communications, said the orchestra’s patrons frequently ask about the status of the theater in hopes of returning one day.

“That used to be our home, and we would love to see it restored to the point where we can perform there again,” Snyder said.

Whoever might decide to buy the theater would be rescuing it from a troubled past since Katrina.

Don Randon and Keith Geers look at an old music score found in the box office of the Orpheum Theater Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. (Photo by Dinah Rogers, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune)
Don Randon and Keith Geers look at an old music score found in the box office of the Orpheum Theater Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. (Photo by Dinah Rogers, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune)

The Orpheum sold in 2006 for $675,000 to Weyand Properties, a company owned by two businessmen from Texas, Richard Weyand and Peter Thiessen. Over the next few years, ownership of the theater was transferred between several corporate entities, which took out various mortgages along the way, leaving the property mired in millions of dollars of debt and complicating what would have already been an expensive and complex renovation job.

In 2010, New Orleans entrepreneur Andrew Reid acquired the property through 129 University Place LLC by agreeing to assume a $2.7 million mortgage on the property and issue $3.47 million in stock to the previous owners for total consideration of $6.2 million. At the time, he said he planned to restore the theater and expand its program offerings.

Later that year, 129 University Place LLC merged with a publicly traded Hawaiian coffee company, the merged company was named Orpheum Property Inc. and Reid became a company executive. Orpheum began describing itself as a real estate investment company.

Orpheum Property Inc. today is operating under another name, Axiom Global Properties, where company officials did not make anyone available for comment Friday.

A water line remains Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, on the wall of the alley at the side of the Orpheum Theater from Hurricane Katrina flooding. (Photo by Dinah Rogers, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune)
A water line remains Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, on the wall of the alley at the side of the Orpheum Theater from Hurricane Katrina flooding. (Photo by Dinah Rogers, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune)

Axiom Global Properties’ website features an old photograph of the Orpheum and describes the company as a commercial real estate investment company. Reid is listed as chairman of Axiom.

Even as the theater sat vacant, Orpheum Property Inc. expanded into new ventures, buying interests in companiesthat owned property in Mexico, California, Nevada and Belize in exchange for Orpheum Property stock, according to a report on Trading App Gebühren. As recently as March of this year, the company issued a news release announcing another expansion — the acquisition of a Honolulu coffee company called Coscina Brothers.

Orpheum Property trades on the unregulated over-the-counter stock market with the ticker symbol PLFF. Earlier this month, its shares were valued at 15 cents per share.

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