Stage Center is going up for sale as an organization that formed in January to acquire and turn the closed theater into a children's museum decided to move on because the project couldn't be funded.
The Oklahoma City Community Foundation recently retained Mark Beffort and Grubb&Ellis/Levy Beffort to list the theater, 400 W California Ave., for sale to a development community already showing signs it is eager to submit bids.
Tracey Zeeck, who led the effort to save the theater, along with architect Farooq Karim, responded with a letter sent to supporters announcing the effort to establish a children's museum would continue — but not at the darkened Stage Center.
“Our group is deciding who is on the ‘save Stage Center team' and who is on the ‘build a children's museum' team,” Zeeck said. “Everyone is kind of on both, but we want to have folks to feel free to work on what they want.”
The issue, Zeeck said, continues to be money.
“It's finding someone to be an anchor, to be the naming rights sponsor,” she said. “It was worth trying. If we hadn't, we always would have wondered what if we had? We took our shot. We've gone to the biggest names with the most reason to do this, and if it wasn't for them to do, it probably won't be anyone's deal.”
The theater, designed by John Johansen, is internationally recognized architecture and is featured in architectural textbooks.
The theater opened in 1970 and was part of the I.M. Pei Plan that sought to rebuild downtown in the 1960s and 1970s.
The building has been closed since floodwaters in June 2010 devastated the theater. Arts agencies permanently relocated, the building was stripped by copper thieves, and building ownership reverted from the Arts Council of Oklahoma City to the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.
The foundation agreed to let the Central Oklahoma Chapter of the American Institute of Architects issue a request for proposals, which drew a response from the children's museum group.
That response, however, did not come with the required financing and was rejected by the foundation.
Zeeck said her effort ended after she was convinced no suitors could be found and that the property was drawing significant interest from developers.
“We tried everything,” Zeeck said. “We had to wait for national press that came out in the end to make sure there wasn't anyone out there who could help us. The people who love the building seem to be the people who don't have the money, unfortunately.”
She promised the effort to establish a children's museum will continue.
“I don't think this means the building must go away,” Zeeck said. “But if we want to establish a children's museum, we need to find a place that is more feasible.”
The theater, meanwhile, is not yet doomed to demolition. Beffort, one of downtown's leading real estate brokers, said the building will be maintained while it is marketed.
“We want to make sure we've exhausted all possibilities,” Beffort said.
“If there is someone out there who has the idea they want to use the existing structure or a portion of it, we want to make sure that remains a possibility.”
Beffort said the foundation is not going to blindly sell to a speculative buyer with no plans for the site.
“There are three primary issues to consider,” Beffort said. “What is the intended use of the site? Who is behind it, and what is their experience and ability to carry out the plan? And what are they willing to pay?”
The highest price, he said, may not alone determine the successful buyer.
“Use will be a consideration,” he said.
Beffort confirmed he has fielded inquiries from several interested potential buyers who recognize the site's value in being across from the new Devon Energy Center, a revamped Myriad Gardens and near the future convention center and Core to Shore park.
“I have a feeling we will have a lot of interest based on what we've heard so far,” Beffort said.
“If we were going through this process five to seven years ago, we would not be as successful as we are today. If you look at it now, it's the most valuable site this close to the (downtown) core.”
Our group is deciding who is on the ‘save Stage Center team' and who is on the ‘build a children's museum' team.”