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Stringer helps National Black Theater stay open

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 6/14/2012, 3:23 p.m.
Imhotep's Guide to Black Events 9/22- 9/27/11

At Fifth Avenue and 125th Street, a staple of Harlem arts and culture will remain in its rightful place.

Joined by Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez, district managers of community boards and Michael and Sade Lythcott, standing in front of the National Black Theater of Harlem, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer announced an agreement that, he said, "would ensure...an iconic Harlem landmark will be here for a very long time." Stringer broke down how the theater and other parties involved were able to work out their financial disputes.

"We were able to bring together a business entity and the theater in the same room to work out the financial differences," said Stringer. "It was a complicated negotiation, by the way, way before our office got involved. It's not something they resolved in a day. As a result, we're moving forward and not backward."

Last year, the center was threatened with foreclosure and found itself involved in several disputes with former business partners, who were accused of mismanagement by the theater, and a dispute with a nearby restaurant. The theater was relieved of over $10 million in debt after Baltoro Capital Management took over the 64,000-square-foot building this spring. Raymond Nicola Hannigan, a partner with Herrick, Feinstein LLP, which represents the theater, spoke about the agreement in a publicly released statement.

"The National Black Theater is grateful to the Manhattan Borough president, Scott M. Stringer, for stepping in and bringing the parties together to reach a successful resolution," said Hannigan. "Thanks to the borough president's extraordinary personal efforts and the cooperation of all parties, we can now look forward to transforming this landmark Harlem property together to make it stronger than ever."

Even if the building is sold, Baltoro Capital promised to keep the theater in the building rent-free. The disputes with business partners and the restaurant appear to be resolved. And that leaves Sade Lythcott, the chief executive of the National Black Theater of Harlem, in a good mood.

"The sun is out and the sun is shining. My mom is shining down on all of us. A hard-earned, long-fought fight is over," Lythcott told the AmNews. "It feels like this community got to win. The village of Harlem got to win.

"So many of our institutions are closing. So many of our art and our cultural icons are having to compromise based on the atmosphere that's happening in this community. And thankfully, National Black Theatre is not going to be in that predicament."

Barbara Ann Teer, the theater's founder and Lythcott's mother, passed away in 2008. With her passing came questions of who would carry the torch. Lythcott also told the AmNews how the theater's preservation would look to Harlem's Black community.

"It's a scary statistic with the amount of institutions that close after its founder passes," said Lythcott. "We're not good at secession plans and that's unfortunate." However, Lythcott said that the National Black Theatre would avoid that. "We have a bright future."