Lyric Opera, which owns Birch North Park Theatre, struggles to pay the mortgage and operating costs, which run more than $50,000 monthly. Now, the nonprofit organization is close to unloading the property.
According to Lyric Opera general director Leon Natker, the historic renovated theater, which has been for sale for more than six months, has interested buyers.
In a July 6 phone interview, Natker said he has “two offers still active,” one from Los Angeles and one from New York. The asking price is around $5 million, but he expects counter-offers.
Natker said they only wanted to deal with companies that would “be a partner and in the biz.” The new owner would be able to move concerts, plays, and events into the theater during what Natker called “free ice” periods (unbooked dates).
With the sale ("within 60 to 90 days"), Lyric Opera gets a long-term lease. Natker said negotiations will determine if existing staff will continue to operate the theater.
Lyric Opera was in the black until the economy tanked in 2008. Their $4 million mortgage has forced the sale. Natker mostly blamed the bank (formerly Washington Mutual, now JPMorgan Chase) loan terms for creating their financial predicament.
The theater is a union venue. But Natker praised Local 122 of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) for taking a pay cut.
Natker said he still sees a good future for Lyric Opera. The “biggest show of our season,” he said, is “The Mikado.” He didn't mention it, but Natker is playing the lead role.