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Jul 13, 2010 12:25 PM by Melissa Canone

Orpheum Theater Transformed Into New Music Venue

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The shuttered, debt-ridden Orpheum Theater
has a new owner who says he is in the early stages of planning to
transform the 1921 beaux-arts-style vaudeville house into a music
venue to showcase local talent and host big-name, touring
performers.
Businessman Andrew Reid said Monday that he acquired the
historic theater from a pair of Texas financiers for $675,000 - the
same fire-sale price they paid in 2006 for the building, which has
been vacant since it was flooded in Hurricane Katrina.
In addition, Reid said he assumed a $2.7 million mortgage on the
property and agreed to pay delinquent taxes, interest and penalties
that totaled about $44,000 through April.
Reid said his vision for the theater, which was placed on the
Louisiana Landmarks Society's list of New Orleans' most endangered
sites in 2009, hinges on landing a $5 million Community Development
Block Grant from City Hall and tax credits from the state.
A former investment banker who owns an oil and gas company, Reid
said he has never tackled a similar renovation project.
"We're working on a budget to bring the Orpheum back to its
original grandeur while ushering in a new era in comfort," he
said. If he can obtain the required permits, Reid said he also
wants to add a private rooftop club along the lines of the
Foundation Room at the House of Blues.
Reid said he has spent about $100,000 cleaning up the site and
pumping 46,000 gallons of standing water from the basement.
A spokeswoman for the Downtown Development District said Monday
that the agency has reached out to Reid and is prepared to assist
him in his venture.
Reid said his representatives will try to meet soon with
officials in Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration to begin
applying for the CDBG grant.
If he is able to assemble the necessary financing, Reid said he
can complete the renovation in about a year.
While the project remains a work in progress, Reid said early
estimates place the construction budget for a 1,500-seat theater at
around $10 million.
The new proposal to revive the Orpheum comes four years after
Texas businessmen Richard Weyand and Peter Thiessen bought the
theater for $675,000, about a third of what the state spent to
renovate the building in 1982.
Weyand said at the time that he planned to restore the theater,
but nothing was done until the Historic District Landmarks
Commission prepared to cite the two investors in the spring of 2009
for neglect. The move by the HDLC prompted them to put on a new
roof and seal openings that provided access for vandals.
Meanwhile, they ran up debt on the property.
In 2008, Weyand sold the theater for $879,000 to another entity
that he and his business partners control called the W Properties
Group LLC. At the same time, Weyand canceled the first mortgage and
took out a new one equal to the sales price.
Last year, the company amended the mortgage to reflect that it
had borrowed $2.18 million against the value of the property while
unpaid property taxes continued to mount.
As the theater has moldered, Weyand has been embroiled in
lawsuits in federal and state court around the country.
Back in New Orleans, the Orpheum debt grew larger as the
partners solicited money from about four dozen investors - ranging
from a grocery store worker to elderly retirees who sank all their
savings into the venture - around the country, promising handsome
short-term returns they never delivered.
Initially, distributions were paid quarterly, not monthly as
promised; W Properties stopped paying dividends in January 2009.
Investors apparently have no legal recourse because their names
were not put on the property titles.
As part of his purchase agreement, Reid said he intends to repay
the investors the $2.7 million, which includes interest, before the
end of the year. "They will be made whole - one hundred percent,"
he said.
In addition, he said he will pay all past-due property taxes on
the property.
While Reid wants the main focus of his venture to be live music,
he said he's also interested in developing a weekly, televised
production similar to the Austin City Limits, the award-winning
music series that is now in its 35th season on PBS.
Reid said he has no plans to stage live theater performances and
does not intend to bring back the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra
as a tenant. The orchestra, which performed at the Orpheum for more
than two decades, has a new home at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for
the Performing Arts, which received a major facelift after the
storm.

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