MDI art group faces eviction from Criterion Theatre

Posted July 06, 2010, at 7:55 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:08 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — A Maine nonprofit arts group is facing the prospect of getting evicted from the theater it runs and hopes to purchase one day.

The Criterion Theatre and Arts Center has had trouble making lease payments to theater building owner Erin Early-Ward, who with her then-husband, Anthony Uliano, purchased the theater from Michael Boland in 2007 for $1.4 million. At the time of the sale, the newly formed group signed a 99-year lease on the theater and was given a 10-year time period to buy it outright.

In a letter sent June 24 by the nonprofit group’s board of directors, Early-Ward is urged not to go through with an eviction hearing scheduled for this week.

“We the board feel that eviction would create an unworkable situation for the theater because of the many complications that would arise,” board President Robert Jordan wrote in the letter. “The threat of eviction at any time makes it hard to commit to live events over the next few months. There is no capital.”

The hearing has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday, July 8, in Ellsworth District Court, according to court officials.

Doug Chapman, the nonprofit group’s attorney, said Tuesday that the group’s officials and their representatives do not plan to attend the hearing, but he declined to elaborate or to comment further.

In the June 24 letter, Jordan claims Early-Ward had the locks on the theater building changed last winter “without any notice or explanation to us, the legal tenants.”

The theater has lost money because of the disagreement, he added.

“It has made an already difficult fundraising environment more challenging,” Jordan wrote.

In the letter, Jordan also thanks Early-Ward for her past generosity and says the board hopes to foster an atmosphere of cooperation with her going forward.

Attempts Tuesday to contact Early-Ward were unsuccessful.

Last winter, the town fined the theater $4,000 for not getting full approval for its rebuilt marquee, the cost of which has been reported to be $150,000. The design of the marquee was altered to include elements not approved by the town when it gave the go-ahead to rebuild the marquee.

The art deco Criterion Theater, which first opened in June 1932, has 877 seats, including 88 in the upstairs “loge” or balcony, according to the theater’s official website.

Last summer Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon, a seasonal resident of Mount Desert Island, and her then-partner, Tim Robbins, attended a screening of the movie “Bull Durham” and answered audience questions afterward to help raise money for the theater. The actors first met when they worked on the 1988 film.

At the time, Jordan said the stars’ appearance would help the group raise money to keep the theater open throughout the summer.

“We need a lot more [money],” Jordan said after the 2009 fundraiser. “We need to raise $3 million immediately.”

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