After more than three years of wrangling over ownership and liens on the downtown Lompoc Theatre, the Lompoc City Council voted Oct. 6 to sell its $700,000 deed of trust on the theater to the nonprofit Lompoc Theatre Project for one dollar.
The sale of the deed for $1 to the Lompoc Theatre Project will allow the nonprofit to proceed with an uncontested foreclosure on the theater’s current owner, Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation (LHCDC). The foreclosure process is expected to take about 90 days, according to Mark Herrier, President of the Lompoc Theatre Project.
“For the first time since this organization has been formed, we finally control our own fate, and have the ball in our hands,” he said.
The board charged with oversight of the former redevelopment agency approved the sale of the $700,000 deed in January. It was later discovered, however, that LHCDC had been suspended by the State of California and the IRS for failure to file tax forms for several years and could not legally conduct any business, including purchasing the deed.
The action by the Lompoc City Council Oct. 6 completes a 10-month process of obtaining approvals by various governmental agencies to allow the Lompoc Theatre Project to purchase the deed directly.
Herrier said when the Theatre Project completes the foreclosure on LHCDC, it will own the theater and adjacent parking lot outright without any LHCDC debts on the property after back property taxes are paid. An additional deed on the property, owned by the City of Lompoc for a $225,000 loan given to LHCDC in 2006, will be extinguished through the foreclosure process.
The Theatre Project has agreed to pay LHCDC’s unpaid property taxes going back to 2012, an amount Herrier estimated would be about $60,000. He said the nonprofit is appealing the amount of overdue property taxes because it believes the appraised value of the theater and adjacent parking lot should be lowered.
“In spite of the legal nightmares, and missed opportunities, all of the money that was given for the preservation of the theater has not been lost, but in fact now remains forever in the building, as was intended in the first place,” Herrier said.
“It has been a long, bloody process trying to get through this unprecedented legal mess. Our board of directors and our volunteers have worked tirelessly for the last three years to finally get this done.
“But I would also like to acknowledge our city council, city manager and city staff for working with us and never giving up. And I thank Mayor Bob Lingl in particular, for his leadership and his determination to cut through the Gordian Knot and finally bring this over the finish line.”
The Theatre Project announced a $6 million restoration plan in December of last year that included conceptual renderings provided by professional theater designers commissioned by the nonprofit. Among the new amenities in those plans are rehearsal space for performing artists, an outdoor courtyard and disability access.
LHCDC announced plans to restore and reopen the theater in 2003, when it leased the property from the Calvert family, one of the original owners of the theater built in 1927. The city’s former Lompoc Redevelopment Agency loaned LHCDC $700,000 to acquire and restore the long-vacant theater, but the organization was never able to begin the rehabilitation of the deteriorating theater. LHCDC had accumulated $1.1 million of public and private debt on the property before it abandoned plans to restore the theater and announced its intent to dissolve in 2011.
The process of unraveling the theater’s liens and deeds of trust still under LHCDC’s ownership became entangled in a lengthy state-mandated dissolution process when the state shut down all local redevelopment agencies in 2011.
Herrier said LTP is eager to get to work.
“We look forward to working with the community members who have indicated a willingness to support us financially once we have the keys. And when that happens, when they are finally in our hands, we will invite the whole town and have a celebration in a spirit worthy of this victory.”
The Lompoc Theatre Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to restore the Lompoc Theatre as a venue for arts, entertainment, culture and education for the community and its visitors.