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Inside the deal to sell the Auburn Schine Theater and fund its restoration

Inside the deal to sell the Auburn Schine Theater and fund its restoration

Auburn Schine Theater

The Schine Theater on South Street in downtown Auburn.

Since the owner of the Auburn Schine Theater announced its partnership with a Syracuse developer to restore the building, new details of the partnership and the restoration have come to light.

Many of those details are included in an April 12 memorandum of understanding between the theater's current owner, the Cayuga County Arts Council, and the developer, Bowers Development. The memorandum was released to the public June 15, when it was included with the city of Auburn's application for $10 million in Downtown Revitalization Initiative funds from the state.

The memorandum says Bowers will buy the building from the council for $15,000 (it originally says $10,000, but that amount is crossed out and replaced with $15,000 and the signature of council board Chair Ed Onori). The purchase, however, is contingent on a few conditions: environmental and structural assessments of the 1938 movie palace, and receipt of grant funding.

The project must receive three grants in order for Bowers to buy the Schine, the memorandum says. The first is $1.25 million in Community Development Block Grant funds for remediation of the theater's asbestos, lead paint and mold. Indeed, in May, the city allocated $800,000 in CDBG funds through amendments to its 2016-2017 Action Plan. Office of Planning and Economic Development Director Jennifer Haines said that is all the city can allocate — and, despite the terms of the memorandum, Bowers Development owner Bryan Bowers has told her he is still "moving forward."

Bowers could not be reached for comment.

The second grant Bowers requested is $500,000 from Restore NY, a statewide program to support the revitalization and stabilization of urban areas. Haines said the city has not yet received word the grant will be funded this year, but if it is, her office will review the Schine's eligibility for it. Applications for the grant are typically due in October.

The third grant is a $1 million Consolidated Funding Application. As such grants are commonly requested through the state's regional economic development councils, the application would be made by Bowers, Haines said, and not the city. Onori said he and the council feel good about Bowers' chances, citing his previous receipt of state funds for similar remediation projects.

The application also briefly mentions another form of financial support for the Schine project: A payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement from the local industrial development agency (which would be the Auburn Industrial Development Authority). But Onori said a PILOT is only one of many possibilities.

"We're just throwing out a lot of things to see what's best for the whole project," he said. "We don't know if that's on the table or not."

Onori added that the council's partnership with Bowers could continue even if more terms of their memorandum of understanding are not met. For instance, the Schine could find another source of funds if Auburn bests the four other municipalities competing for central New York's Downtown Revitalization Initiative prize. The city's application allots $2 million of the $10 million prize to the Schine, though Haines stipulated that the amount is tentative and could change if Auburn wins the money. The grant requires working with the state to guide how the money is spent.

As the arts council and Bowers await word on the $10 million grant over the next few weeks, the terms of their partnership appear to be in flux.

Though the memorandum and Auburn's Downtown Revitalization Initiative application both say the council will sell the building to Bowers, Onori said Friday that the two organizations will instead co-own the building through a new limited liability company. It has not yet been formed nor given a name, Onori said.

Another question is the partnership's approval by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The office recognized the Schine as a historic landmark in 1994, four years before the council purchased it for $26,000 in back taxes. The status not only qualified the project for grants and tax credits, but set a requirement that any work on the theater be approved by the office.

In a June 19 Facebook post, the council said it met a week prior with representatives of the city of Auburn, Bowers' Asbestos & Environmental Consulting Corporation, and Julian Adams, director of the state historic preservation office's Community Preservation Services Bureau & Tax Credit Unit. Adams expressed a desire to see the theater's character preserved as much as possible, Onori said.

Asked what Adams and the office think of the partnership, Onori said, "They don't have a problem with that."

Contacted by The Citizen, Adams directed comment to his public information office. A representative issued the following statement: "Due to several grants issued to the Schine Theater, there is a Preservation Covenant in effect until 7/25/2036. The owner does need to receive approval from the state to sell the property. We are happy to work with them on efforts to rehabilitate the building."

Asked whether the office has reviewed and/or approved the memorandum of understanding between the council and Bowers, the representative said, "We haven't been contacted about the sale."

Mindful that the community may have questions, the arts council has scheduled a public information session for 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, July 7, at the theater.

"We're trying to put everything together right now," Onori said. "It's not something that happens overnight."

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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