Boal Barn battles theater group over rent dispute

A local theater and the acting company that performed there have top billing in a case filed in Centre County Court.

Christopher Lee, trustee of the J.M. Boal Real Estate Trust, the owner of the Boal Barn Playhouse, filed suit against the State College Community Theatre Inc. earlier this month. The suit alleges breach of contract on the part of the theater company and seeks more than $40,000 in damages.

SCCT had leased the Boal Barn since 1959, using it as a performance venue and for storing costumes and props. According to the most recent lease included in Lee’s suit, rent started at $11,500 in 2006 and went up by about $1,125 a year until 2011, then by $750 a year until 2013, when it stayed flat. The company was also partially responsible for routine maintenance costs over the years under the terms of the lease and was to have a $3,000 security deposit in an escrow fund.

According to the suit, SCCT told Lee in October 2012 that the 2013 performances would be held in other locations. None of that season was held at the Barn, although the building was used for storage. Rent was paid until August 2013, but one year’s rent was due as notice for termination of the lease, the suit alleges.

Lee is looking to recover the $23,145, representing back rent, as well as the remainder of the rent due for that 12-month period. He also seeks $18,480 as the company’s part of a slate of repairs he said was initiated at its request.

In a January 2013 letter to the Centre Region Code Enforcement Authority, Rick Gilmore, the SCCT president at the time, asked for “an official opinion” on a slate of conditions at the Barn, including fire detection, fire suppression, adequate exits for audience and performers, electrical systems and property storage.

Lee’s suit says that a subsequent report indicated nine areas of repairs to be made before an occupancy permit could be issued. Those are “ongoing and are expected to exceed $37,000,” the suit states, about half of which the suit says should be borne by the theater company.

Lastly, the suit seeks the $3,000 in security funds.

What Lee says he doesn’t want is bad blood or bad press for either party.

“After informal efforts to resolve disagreements with the lessee about the lease contract were unsuccessful, the lessor was left no choice but to file a formal complaint, which is self-explanatory. I hope everyone will refrain from vilifying either party as we seek a fair resolution,” he said.

Bruce Fleischer is now the SCCT president. He declined to specifically address the suit because of pending litigation, saying only that the company would soon file an official response to Lee’s claims.

However, he said, the company is moving forward with its mission to produce local drama, including “Little Shop of Horrors,” which will open at Mount Nittany Middle School in June, and more shows that will be staged at the school, the State Theater and Penn State’s Downtown Theater.

“We hope to put this behind us,” he said.

Lori Falce can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @LoriFalce.