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6:18 AM Tue, Nov. 20th

Prescott still open to proposal on sale of Elks Opera House

PRESCOTT - Another offer apparently is in the works from the organization that earlier expressed interest in buying the Elks Opera House from the City of Prescott.

The possible sale of the historic downtown theater was a topic of discussion by the Prescott City Council Tuesday during a closed-door executive session.

Although Mayor Marlin Kuykendall declined to discuss the specifics of the discussion, he said the Elks Theater Performing Arts Center appears to be interested in reopening the discussion.

"We believe, at this moment, that there is another proposal forthcoming," Kuykendall said Wednesday morning. "It was left in such a way from the first round that the door was not closed."

Quintin Lindsmith, the Ohio-based attorney representing the Elks Theater Performing Arts Center, agreed that the organization likely would submit another offer.

"We are interested in making one final effort with the city to try to acquire the theater," Lindsmith said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon.

He added that he expected the proposal to occur before the end of the year. "I would hope it would be within the next 60 days," Lindsmith said.

The organization submitted an earlier proposal for the purchase of the theater, but the city ultimately rejected that offer because of the amount of cash involved.

The proposal stemmed from a request for proposals (RFP) by the city, after City Council members agreed during a May budget workshop to seek parties interested in buying the 1905 downtown theater.

The city received just one proposal, which it opened on June 29. After several weeks of negotiations, the process ended without a successful sale.

The obstacle: the performing art center's offer of $500,000, which did not come close to the $1.38 million that the city had previously put into the theater.

Although the non-profit organization also had pledged to create a sizable endowment to ensure perpetual operation of the theater, the city maintained that the cash amount should cover its prior expenses.

"The council felt like we had a responsibility for the taxpayers to get that money returned," Kuykendall said.

The issue evolved in late September, when the Elks Theater Performing Arts Center reported that it had purchased the remainder of the Elks building from the law firm that had long occupied it.

At that time, Lindsmith said the performing arts center was still interested in acquiring the city's portion of the building, adding that the possibility existed for a higher offer.

This week, Lindsmith declined to comment on what the proposed purchase price might be.

While noting that local officials still are hoping to recoup the money the city has put into the building, Kuykendall was positive about the prospect of reopening discussions.

"This is an opportunity that probably happens once in a town's life," the mayor said, noting that the organization is looking not only to continue the restoration of the Elks building, but also to dedicate it permanently to the performing arts.

Prior to Tuesday's executive session, Elisabeth Ruffner of the Elks Opera House Foundation delivered a letter to the council, urging the city to "recognize the investment made with national, state, and local funds in the restoration totaling more than $4 million in ac-cepting an offer for the purchase of the theatre."

Ruffner also asked the city to ensure that existing contracting by the Foundation and other volunteers, such as the Elks Guild, "be recognized as a continuing benefit for the theatre."

Kuykendall said the previous proposal did recognize the efforts of local volunteers and contributors. The main sticking point in the last round of negotiations, he said, was the purchase price.