The show may go on for the Hollywood Playhouse.
The Hollywood Commission voted Wednesday to exercise a deed restriction that requires the property to remain a theater or be returned to the city.
“I think we can take this court,” said Commissioner Beam Furr. “At the worst we lose, and we have to buy it. Then we have a playhouse.”
Last year, the city filed a lawsuit against TransCapital Bank — which owns the Playhouse after acquiring it through foreclosure — saying the property was not being used as a theater as required.
The bank filed a countersuit, complaining that the city blocked a pending $1.2 million sale to a church. Although the Purpose Center Family Church promised it would put on at least four non-religious plays a year, city leaders were not satisfied.
The Hollywood Playhouse, which enjoyed a successful 50-year run, now sits empty and abandoned at 2640 Washington St.
When city leaders sold the land to The Little Theater of Hollywood for $10 in 1949, they created a deed that required the property to always be used as a theater. If the property ceased to be a theater, or was abandoned, it would revert back to the city.
In 2003, the land was sold to developer Ron Posner, who intended to build homes on the site. In the meantime, Posner said, the venue would be kept open and shows would be performed.
The following year, “Bits of the Bard’’ enjoyed a successful run — and national recognition.
But in October 2005, Hurricane Wilma caused enough damage to force the doors to close.
In 2008, Posner renovated the theater, putting in a new rotating stage and adding production rooms for film, music and television.
But by 2010, the developer had stopped making payments and the property was in foreclosure.
And now the bank says it is impossible to sell the property with the deed restriction in place.
Meanwhile, theater lovers begged the commissioners to fight for the three-story building.
“I ask you as city leaders to do some leadership,” said Rene Barrett, who presented the commission with a petition of 461 signatures. “Otherwise your legacy is going to be to have lost a jewel for the city.”
Resident Siobhan McLaughlin urged the commission to look for a partner and run the theater.
“I don’t think we should give it away so easily,” McLaughlin said. “I think it’s a perfect opportunity.”
But Mayor Peter Bober said he is not willing to risk taxpayer dollars when “the reality is we don’t have a strong case.”
“I am not going into the theater business,” Bober said, adding that while the city is in difficult financial straights it should not be putting money on the line for a theater. “I would rather hire more cops for a $1 million.”
On Wednesday, City Attorney Jeff Sheffel presented a settlement deal that would have lifted the deed restriction and allowed the bank to use it for any purpose. The city would be able to use the property four times a year for free.
The settlement idea was voted down, 4-3, with the commission saying it would rather face the bank in court.
Several commissioner said they didn’t think they would lose in court and didn’t want to give up on the shuttered theater.
“I am not convinced that our case is that weak,” said Commissioner Heidi O’Sheehan. “I think we have a good chance of winning.”
But Sheffel said Wednesday he found historic information that is “unfavorable to our case.” Earlier commissions, Sheffel said, chose not to enforce the deed provision, and that may impact a judge’s decision.
However, Sheffel said, he is prepared to take the issue to court.
“We will fight on behalf of the city to uphold the revisionary clause,” he told the commissioners. “If we lose you will direct me or not direct me to appeal.”