National Black Theater, a cultural fixture in Harlem that was in danger of losing its home, has resolved a series of financial disputes that had endangered its future.
The theater, at Fifth Avenue and 125th Street, had been threatened by foreclosure and involved in disputes with a neighboring restaurant and with its former business partners, whom theater officials had accused of mismanagement. Those disputes have now been resolved, and the theater was relieved of over $10 million in debt when Baltoro Capital Management took over the 64,000-square-foot building this spring. The company has pledged to keep the theater in the building rent free, even if the building is sold. “The fight is over,” said Sade Lythcott, the chief executive of the theater. “Now the real work begins, to get the muscle weakened by all this litigation strong again. That feels great.”
Ms. Lythcott is the daughter of the theater’s founder, Barbara Ann Teer, who died in 2008. She was such a fixture in the neighborhood, with a national reputation for promoting black artists, that her death was marked by a march through Harlem. Her funeral at Riverside Church was packed with dignitaries.
Ms. Teer made the theater a cultural incubator, one that presents shows and workshops intended to foster respect for African ancestry and for black self-expression. Over the years it has hosted artists like Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Nina Simone, Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou.
As a new entity called Harlem Renaissance 2012, Baltoro is now forming a partnership with the theater, company officials said Wednesday.
“We have agreed that the National Black Theater will stay in its space indefinitely,” said Michael Kelley, the president and chief executive. “We’re excited that we’re preserving the N.B.T. space and its important cultural mission.” He added, “We’re exploring ways for this great location to be cultural destination for artists and visitors to Harlem.”
The details of the partnership are still being worked out, Ms. Lythcott said, and neither side would specify beyond the term “indefinitely” how long the theater was guaranteed a rent-free existence. But she said she looked forward to seeing the building renovated and to continuing the theater’s programming, which in addition to plays includes a children’s art program and a showcase series for new artists.
Complicating Baltoro’s takeover of the building was a lawsuit from Applebee’s, part of a tangled real estate dispute. Ms. Teer had sued to prevent an Applebee’s franchise across the street from the theater, at 1 West 125th Street, from subleasing space in the theater building. The sublease had been arranged by the theater’s former business associates, who have denied any mismanagement. Ms. Teer had argued that Applebee’s would not be consistent with the cultural integrity and mission of the theater group.
While Ms. Teer initially prevailed in State Supreme Court, Applebee’s filed counterclaims. Both sides dropped their lawsuits during a mediation session brokered last month by Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president. A news conference to include Mr. Stringer and officials of the theater, among others, is planned for Thursday in front of the theater to announce that it is now on more solid ground.