LIK Holdings emerged as the wining bidder for the building that houses Theatre 80 at a bankruptcy court auction on May 9th, but has yet to actually fork over the money on its winning bid.
But now a petition on Change.org has garnnered over 8,000 signatures urging Mayor Eric Adams to use eminent domain to enable the city to seize the building and preserve the historic theatre which has been an East Village icon since the Roaring 20s.
The long time owners, Lorcan Otway and his wife Genie Gilmore were evicted last month by the real estate developer who took over the debt in 2020.
At the bankruptcy auction on May 9, LIK Holdings which is headed by Ori Kushnir agreed to pay $8.8 million to Maverick Real Estate Partners, for the buildings. Maverick took over the debt as a secured creditor after the Otways declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy for Theatre 80 and other businesses in December 2020. The adjoined building at #78 and #80 St. Mark’s Place had served as collateral for a $6.1 million loan that the Otways had used to buy out Lorcan’s brother to settle a family feud over the ownership.
But it turns out that while there is an agreement to buy, LIK Holdings has yet to pay the debt holder.
”We haven’t closed the transaction yet, but I made sure to tell every media outlet and politico we spoke with that our first priority is to sell the building or parts of it back to an interested theater operator, or to figure out a way to work with them,” said Ori Kushnir, a principal at LIK Hodings in a comment he left on the Save Theater 80 Facebook page. “We are in no rush to decide what to do there other than necessary fixes.”
Meanwhile, the Otways who were evicted from the their home and the theater they ran for decades, are still hoping they can somehow return. “Theft is theft,” Otway posted on the Save Theatre 80 Facebook page. “I will fight to my last breath,” he wrote. “How about you?”
The petition to Mayor Eric Adams asking the city to seize the property to preserve the theater now has over 8,000 signers.
“We, the signers listed below, ask you to save Theatre 80 Saint Marks with your power of eminent domain and give the building to “Historic 80 Saint Marks,” the 501c3 your administration helped to empower,” reads the petition directed at Mayor Eric Adams.
The Mayor’s Commissioner of Cultural Affairs had actually helped to establish the theater as a not-for-profit entity, Historic 80 St. Marks, in April, but due to the shortness of time between its establishment as a not-for-profit and the May 9th bankruptcy auction, efforts to find a deep pocketed philanthropic backer were not successful.
Lorcan Otway’s father Howard has bought the buildings and theater 59 years ago and Otway had lived in a townhouse apartment above the theater he had worked in as a youngster ever since.
But Otway, who is 70 and his wife who is in her 60s were evicted from their longtime home last month. Maverick Real Estate Partners had initially taken over the mortgage because the Otways were unable to pay it when forced to close down during the early days of the pandemic. Once Maverick was in possession, it jacked up the interest rate to 25 percent and slapped on penalties that caused the defaulted $6.1 million loan to balloon to a $12 million debt.
Maverick did not return calls seeking comment. Maryanne O’Toole, who was appointed trustee by the court shortly after the Otway’s sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2020, also did not return calls.
LIK Holdings and Kushnir has a contentious relationship with the Otways going back to his days as a tenant living with his life partner in one of the rental apartments above the theater. They had run a takeaway sandwich establishment called FoxFace from the building, which they had moved into in 2005.
As covid restrictions initially eased, Kushnir’s company agreed to run the kitchen and provide food for sale to the patrons of the William Barnacle Tavern, the bar also run by the Otways in the same building adjoining the theater. But Lorcan Otway said the service was sporadic and the food providers were frequently claiming they had run out of food by 5 pm, killing Otway’s ability to stay open at nights in the early days of the reopening, he said. So Otway brought in another food supplier to sell shepherd’s pie to his patrons. Early in the pandemic, in order for a pub to stay open, it had to sell food.
At that point, Foxface principals sued claiming breach of an “oral contract” to handle food sales for ten years. Otway said no such oral contract ever existed. The lawsuit claims the company had to make expensive investments in the kitchen which the suit claims was in much worse shape than anticipated. An attorney for LIK Holdings and Kushnir did not return calls seeking comment.
The Change.org petions says: “The two-year shutdown of businesses by New York State devastated NY’s theaters and bankrupted the owners, the Otways, when a predatory firm purchased their mortgage and doubled their debt.”
The petition continued, “On May 9, Theatre 80’s building sold at an “auction” with only two bidders for $8.8 million to Ori Kushnir, a former tenant of the Otways,” says the petition urging Eric Adams to take action. “Your use of eminent domain would discourage further disasterous profiteering, and it would address the public need. Last year, NY lost 55 percent of its theater jobs according to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
“Although the Otways will lose 15 million dollars in equity, they would at least have a home and a job. The federal government turned these hardworking senior citizens out on the street with no resources, a couple who have given their lives to the theater.
“This injustice must be addressed by you, Mayor Adams,” it urges.
Since their eviction, the Otways have taken up residence in Bonitas House, run by lower East Side rebel priest, Father Pat Moloney.
Other local activists are joining in the effort to return the theater operations to the Otways. “Lorcan Otway, with the aid of his wife Genie have given the American public some of the finest theater we have been able to attend,” said Crystal Field, executive director of the nearby Theater for the New City. “This along with sustenance with food and drink have made some of the happiest moments in my theater life. Anything we can do to help Theatre 80, should be a major mission for ourselves and all of New York City.”
Anything we can do to help Theatre 80, should be a major mission for ourselves and all of New York City.” Crystal Field, executive director, Theater for the New City.