CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — The Art Theater will be closing by the end of October, but the board of directors won’t say why.
The lack of disclosure is causing controversy between the building owner, David Kraft, and the board. On Friday he went to the theater and got into a confrontation with one of the board members. Kraft was noticeably enraged, he began cursing and laying out the legal consequences if the board breaks the terms of their lease. The other board member repeatedly replied they made their decisions under legal council.
The theater just had a big fundraiser in February. About $25,000 was raised for the non-profit theater. WCIA asked the board where that money went, but they wouldn’t answer that or reveal the main issue that led up to this.
The word “closed” stands out on the art theater’s marque. As people passed by they began to reminisce on the good times spent here. Bridgette Moen says, “They show a lot of films that you won’t be able to see anywhere else in town. There will be a void on the community now.”
But what’s happened behind the scenes of the closure has stirred tension for the building owner. David Kraft says, “I have not heard one word from them. I’ve tried contacting them and they haven’t responded.” The news of the closing came as a shock. Kraft’s friends saw it posted online and told him that afternoon.
The lack of communication sparked frustration, so he sent an email threatening legal action if the board breaks the terms of their lease. He says, “If they default all the equipment and all the assets including the bank account becomes mine. If they do anything to remove the equipment or take money out of the account then that opens up the board to being sued personally. Hope they’re smart enough or business savvy enough to do that.”
Right now the non-profit is four years into a ten year lease. This month they paid rent late. Kraft says he would’ve abated the rent or tried to help in some other way if he was given notice of any issues prior to the announcement of the closure.
The theater board made a statement online saying in part quote, “Unfortunately, the film industry is changing and we will face systemic challenges that show no signs of abating”
Kraft says he is interested in finding another tenant to take over the theater. But as of now there are no prospects.
Information posted on The Urbana Free Library History website says the theater has been around since 1913. It was originally the Park Theatre and was one of the first to be built in the Champaign-Urbana area with the purpose of showing films. It was designated as a landmark in August of 1998.