The auction is scheduled for Nov. 5.
Gus Paras hopes he doesn't have to spend too much money to get control of the historic Orpheum Theater in an auction next month.
"If you overspend on the auction, you won't be able to put in the money for a proper renovation," Paras says.
Paras and his partner, Henry Doane, a restaurateur who used to share ownership of the building, are one of at least two groups expected to bid on the theater. Frank Productions, the family-owned concert- and events-promotion company that's currently managing the space, also intends to bid.
Paras says one of the first things he'll do if he gets the property is restore the marquee sign. "It has to come down so we can rebuild it," he says. "We're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars."
He and Doane want to make the theater, which opened in 1927, a place for everyone. There would be a restaurant and bar (operated by Doane, as he once did), concerts, films, weddings and parties, as well as a comedy festival Paras wants to produce with his Comedy Club on State.
Larry Frank, CEO of Frank Productions, says he'd run the Orpheum as "a credible music hall for Madison."
"That's what we've been using it for," he says, without elaborating on whether there would be a restaurant, movies or other events in the space. He says he's reluctant to give details because he doesn't want anyone to steal his business plan.
The auction is scheduled for Nov. 5. It comes after a decade of legal battles between Doane and his former partner, Eric Fleming, as well as Paras and other parties. There have also been fires, code violations and revoked liquor licenses. Frank Productions took over management of the facility last fall after Monona State Bank foreclosed on it. The company has since been hosting concerts in the space.
The city also has a stake (PDF), with $141,000 in liens against the property for unpaid building-code violations accumulated while Fleming was in control. Both Frank and Paras tried to negotiate to buy the city's liens, but the Common Council decided on Oct. 1 to stay neutral and hang on to the liens until after the sale. There is some risk in this.
Patricia Lauten, deputy city attorney, says lien holders are paid from an auction's surplus, and whatever is left over after the mortgage is paid. "I would anticipate there is going to be a surplus," Lauten says. "The question is how many other people have claims."
Paras says he wouldn't be surprised if other bidders emerge in the auction. "I don't want to name names, but there are other people interested."
Ald. Mike Verveer says he's also heard from a New York company. But he's pleased that both Frank and Paras are leading contenders.
"We're very fortunate to have two longstanding Madison families with excellent track records bidding for this landmark theater," he says. "We really couldn't go wrong with either of those families owning and operating the Orpheum."