Negotiations have hit an impasse between a group wanting to convert Stage Center into a children's museum and the theater's owner, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.
Both sides confirmed this week that they could not reach an agreement over a request by Children's Museum of Oklahoma City to pay the foundation $25,000 to hold a right of first refusal on any sale of the property for one year.
Nancy Anthony, director of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, said her board's offer of a five-month right of refusa
“They asked for 12 months instead and we declined that,” Anthony said. “We don't need to spend 12 more months to see if something happens. This needs to move forward.”
The Central Oklahoma Chapter of American Institute of Architects secured an agreement with the foundation after earlier failed attempts to find a redevelopment option. A mortgage for the building reverted to the foundation after the theater was extensively damaged by flooding in 2010.
Tracey Zeeck, a coordinator of the campaign to acquire Stage Center and convert it into a children's museum, said her group remains committed to making the project a reality and appreciated the foundation's initial offer of right of first refusal.
“While we were pleased that they saw enough value in our effort to offer this, their timeline simply didn't match ours,” Zeeck said. “As anyone could guess, a fundraising effort of this magnitude, an estimated $30 million to fully complete the project and open the museum to visitors, requires a much greater time commitment than just a few months.”
Zeeck noted her group only organized earlier this year, and has made progress in attracting public support, creating conceptual renderings and architectural studies, launching a website, board and applying for nonprofit status.
Zeeck said the scope of the project included the goal of attracting a “dream funder” and added that promising discussions have taken place with parties who would fit that ambition.
Anthony agreed “the door is still open” for a deal to be done with the children's museum organizers, but said an appraisal on the property has been completed and the theater's fate may be decided by her board later this month.
“We have determined options have to be broader than the not-for-profit community,” Anthony said. “We believe it's inappropriate not to deal with this after it has been empty for two years.”
Zeeck hopes another discussion will take place before the theater is slated for potential demolition.
“Fortunately we have the help of attorneys, civic and government leaders, business people, museum experts, child advocates, community folks, and even some family foundations making up our interim board of directors, and they're willing to put their hearts and dollars and sweat into this as well,” Zeeck said. “And then there are the fans: Oklahoma City enthusiasts who want nothing more than to have a safe engaging place for their families to play and grow together, downtown, in our generation's most iconic building.”
Stage Center started as the home of Mummers Theater, which was a popular theatrical company in the 1960s that was outgrowing the warehouse it called home. With downtown undergoing a complete makeover led by the renowned architect I.M. Pei, the theater sought out a similar talent to come up with a design that would be just as eye-catching as the Myriad Gardens.
A $1.7 million grant from the Ford Foundation in 1963 made just such a hiring possible for the theater. John M. Johansen had studied with Frank Lloyd Wright and was one of the “Harvard Five” — five Harvard-educated architects who had led the modernist movement by creating showcases for their work in New Canaan, Conn.
The theater, 400 W California, opened in 1970 and earned international praise from the architecture world and is featured in architectural textbooks. It closed due to flooding in 2010.