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Demcore seeking to purchase theater

September 20, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

andrews@herald-mail.com

Demcore Development of Hagerstown wants to buy The Maryland Theatre and keep it as a theater, Mike Deming, the company's president, said Monday.

Deming's acknowledgment that he is the unidentified bidder ends weeks of speculation.

The nonprofit theater's board of directors released a statement Sept. 1 about the offer. Instead of revealing who made the offer, Executive Director Patricia Wolford would only say it was a business with "local ties" that would invest at least $1 million to preserve the building.

Deming said Monday that rumors he might change the use of the 90-year-old building or, worse, tear it down convinced him to speak up.

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"It's time for us to come out and make it understood very clearly that that is not the intention," he said. "If anything, we hope to enhance it."

The board of directors announced it would accept other offers made before Oct. 1.

Wolford said Monday that Deming's is the only formal offer submitted, but she's heard that others might come, including one by members of the board of directors.

Board member Ron Bowers said Monday that talk of that sort is premature.

"The board needs to methodically proceed with caution with what we do and make sure it's done in a correct way," he said.

Bowers said the board has no timetable or process yet for reviewing offers and hasn't decided whether to sell.

News that the theater board was entertaining a purchase offer surprised some, who questioned a new owner's allegiance to the building.

In a letter to the editor this month in The Herald-Mail, Jack Garrott, a past president of the Maryland Theatre Association, wrote, "It is nave to believe that a private individual with clear title to a property will not dispose of it when it is losing money. The disposal could be into the hands of another party or it could be tearing it down and using the real estate for another building or a parking lot.

"A so-called 'deep-pockets' person did not get deep pockets by making unprofitable deals."

Deming said that's far from the truth for him.

"It just doesn't make sense for us to tear it down," he said.

N. Linn Hendershot, Demcore Development's marketing director, said the theater - a linchpin of the city's Arts and Entertainment District - is now used 75 days a year.

Demcore wants to expand that, possibly through Washington County Public Schools, said Hendershot, a former Hagerstown city councilman.

Wolford cautioned that increasing the number of shows at the theater is a good idea only if people buy tickets, which isn't always easy.

Demcore Development has played a significant part of recent downtown renovation.

The company bought 6-16 W. Washington St., the home of the former Frostburg State University Hagerstown Center, for $1.4 million on Aug. 31, 2004.

The company also owns 2-4 Public Square, which soon will have an ice cream shop to go with a toy store and second-floor office space.

Deming said Demcore expects to ask the city this week for construction permits to restore the Schindel-Rohrer building on South Potomac Street. He said the project, which will cost about $3 million, will include office space, a restaurant and a nightclub-type lounge.

Deming said he will announce five or six other significant downtown projects in the next 30 to 60 days.

Deming's offer for The Maryland Theatre grew out of a conversation Hendershot had with Wolford about two months ago.

Wolford said she and Hendershot were talking about ticket and restaurant agreements for the theater and Demcore. Because the plans could extend well into the future, she told Hendershot she plans to retire within three years.

Hendershot said he wondered about the theater's future and talked to Deming, who offered to buy it.

Wolford said her husband, Ted Wolford, director of the Washington County Highway Department, probably will retire around the time she does.

In preparation, they have put their house on the market here and have bought a "snowbird" house in Florida, Patricia Wolford said.

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