Philadelphia Theatre Company's future still uncertain

E. Gerald Riesenbach, board chairman of the troubled Philadelphia Theatre Company.
E. Gerald Riesenbach, board chairman of the troubled Philadelphia Theatre Company.
Posted: July 10, 2014

The Roberts family has moved up a $200,000 payment on a promised grant to the Philadelphia Theatre Company to help ease the company's cash crunch, but the philanthropists have not made any decision on a more substantial donation that might help solve its long-term financial troubles.

Ralph and Suzanne Roberts - whose previous support earned them the right to put her flamboyant signature on the company's theater marquee - have preliminary findings of a report by outgoing Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser on the company's viability. Kaiser's findings, they had said, would help them decide whether to give a larger gift. For now, they have agreed to pay only a previously scheduled $200,000 December payment.

"The Philadelphia Theatre Company has advised us that they are desperately in need of cash to keep going," said Kevin Feeley, a family spokesman. "And for this reason, the Roberts family is prepared to advance its $200,000 commitment to keep the company going until the building issues are resolved and a long-term strategy can be put in place." Areas of concern, he said, include governance, management, marketing, and fund-raising.

TD Bank, which has foreclosed on the company's Suzanne Roberts Theatre space adjacent to Symphony House at Broad and Lombard Streets, is actively marketing the property. The Robertses have decided to pause as that process continues, Feeley said. One hope is that a new owner of the space would lease it to company.

"It's not that the Robertses are saying it's all we are going to give," Feeley said. "It's them saying we all need time to figure this out, to see what solutions can be found."

Philadelphia Theatre Company moved into the building in 2007, but was unable to finish raising money for the project, which included a 365-seat theater. Feeley declined to release Kaiser's report. But he said it traced the primary cause of the company's woes to fund-raising shortfalls for the building, the resulting debt, plus "poor business management" and a board that could not support adequate fund-raising.

Tax returns show that more than $11 million was still owed to TD Bank in August 2012. The theater company had stopped making payments that May.

All its building debt would have to be eliminated, Feeley said, and a cash infusion of at least $2.5 million would be necessary to stabilize finances. Success might also hinge on a new building owner's granting five rent-free years to the company.

Even then, Kaiser's assessment purportedly concluded, the company's survival would not be assured. Said Feeley: "The report says, while PTC might well be viable, its future viability requires at a minimum a lot of reforms in the operations, and even if those happen, there are still some serious risks."

PTC board chairman E. Gerald Riesenbach said, "We have been told that the report has not been completed and have not been given access to it. . . . The fact that the report has been delayed into July and has therefore delayed the Robertses' decision has put significant additional strain on PTC. Although the Robertses advanced PTC $200,000, for which PTC is very grateful, that amount is not a solution to the current situation."

TD Bank is asking $7.5 million for the space. A Roberts representative made a below-market offer, which was rejected, Feeley said. John Adderly, an agent with NAI Mertz in Mount Laurel, which is marketing the space, said it was drawing serious interest from potential buyers who would keep it a theater, as well as others who would adapt it for another use. "I would say there are more than 10," he said.


pdobrin@phillynews.com

215-854-5611

www.inquirer.com/artswatch

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