The owners of Broadway’s tiniest theater, named for Rockland’s most-famous actress, say the time is up: They are owed $21.4 million, the balance due on the $24.7 million sale negotiated in 2007. Second Stage Theatre filed suit Friday in state Supreme Court, claiming it has 90 days before the bill is due.
At dispute is nearly everything in the once-amicable sale, including who asked for repeated closing extensions between when Martin Markinson and Jeffrey Tick agreed to sell the 579-seat jewel-box theater to the nonprofit Second Stage, and when the theater’s last show, “Rock of Ages,” officially closed.
Tick says Second Stage asked for more time to close; Second Stage says the Hayes’ owners wanted to keep shows running and asked for flexibility.
Tick says “Rock of Ages” closed when the curtain came down, setting a 30-day clock in motion to the real-estate closing. Second Stage’s suit claims a show isn’t closed until there’s no trace of it left in the theater.
This is turning into a potboiler.
At stake is a Broadway foothold for Second Stage, a longtime off-Broadway renter looking to breathe the rarefied air of owning one of Broadway’s 40 theaters.
Also at stake is the name above the marquee: Second Stage is banking on millions it’ll get for the naming rights to the space. If the sale goes through, Helen Hayes’ name will leave a Broadway marquee for the first time in 55 years.
The suit asks the court to postpone the closing to May 18. A hearing is set for Thursday.
“This is a matter of time, not of money,” Second Stage Executive Director Casey Reitz said. “If you can imagine what it takes to buy a New York City apartment — and the paperwork that must be generated for that — and multiply it by a thousand, you have an idea of what work is happening and why the extension has been requested.”
He said he had the financing, and the legal claim for the 90-day reprieve Second Stage is seeking.
Tick disputed each point of the suit, and Reitz’s claim that Second Stage has the money.
“If they had the money, we’d be closing tomorrow,” Tick said Monday.
As for the time, Tick said that Second Stage has had eight years to raise the money, and that members of its board are wealthy and intelligent, capable of arranging a bridge loan to get the theater through the closing.
“They got a letter from us on Nov. 17 that we were closing on Feb. 17,” Tick said. “They didn’t just start working on this on Nov. 17.”
Second Stage wants to raise $58 million, to create an operating fund well in excess of the sale price.
“It has 100 percent soured me on the deal,” Tick said. “Yes, yes, yes. I don’t want to do business with these people. They’ve been painted as the poor nonprofit. The operating budget of Second Stage is bigger than the operating budget of the Helen Hayes Theatre. It’s a joke. It’s not about the money. It’s about them not living up to their agreement.”
Reitz said: “We have patiently been waiting to take ownership of the theater and it is unfortunate that the owners have had a change of heart and are now trying to withdraw from the agreement. We look forward to presenting our case in court on Thursday.”
Tick was adamant: “We gave them all the proper notices per the contract and if they don’t show up, we have no intention of selling the theater. At all. I’d rather run it.”
He said he sees two scenarios and will entertain a third. Either he and Markinson sell to Second Stage.
Or they don’t.
Or Tick buys out his partner’s interest, and keeps Hayes’ name on the marquee.
“He’s 82 and I’m in my 50s,” he said. “He and I get along beautifully but we might have different desires. He wanted to sell by this date.”
The 102-year-old venue on West 44th Street is the second to bear Hayes’ name. The first was on West 46th Street and was called the Helen Hayes from 1955 to 1982, when it was razed to build the Marriott Marquis hotel.
Tick laughed, remembering that when Hayes, who died in 1993, toured the 44th Street venue shortly before it was named for her in 1983, she noted that it was smaller than the one on 46th.
“Her actor’s ego was intact,” he said.