If someone had asked me in recent times about the long-term survivability of Le Petit Théâtre I might have said it is year-to-year at best, possibly month-to-month, if not even more tenuous. After the events of last week I can say that Le Petit just may be around forever.
Members of the theater did the right thing when they, in effect, approved a charter change that will allow the board to sell 60 percent of the building to the Dickie Brennan’s Restaurant Group to be used as a restaurant. Most of that part of the building was added onto Le Petit in 1963 and was not part of the more historic original 1922 structure. In return Le Petit gets $3 million which will allow its board to pay off longstanding debts, provide operating money and give the theater its first ever $1 million endowment. (In the world of entertainment, having a high-class restaurant sharing your building doesn’t hurt either.)
Le Petit’s most important element, the large theater, will remain as will some of the backspace and upstairs space. The two owners will share the lobby and patio. For the first time in its history, the building, located on St. Peters and Charters Streets, one of the most important corners in the city, will be in use just about every day and night instead of standing dormant most of the time.
Le Petit’s board will now have the ability to produce great theater and to run a stable operation. Although many of the theater’s productions in the past have been excellent, the theater could never climb out of debt because of its reputation for losing money. Donors do not want to put good money into a bottomless hole. With stability the theater will have a better chance at development.
Of those who made up the opposition there were no doubt some who were sincere in their intentions as they took what they regarded as a preservationist stance. However a suspicious mind might speculate that there were also some folks pulling strings in the background who wanted to see Le Petit fail so that the building would eventually be purchasable at foreclosure prices. But that’s just a suspicious mind…
Barring delaying legal maneuvers, Le Petit’s neighborhood may soon be enriched by enhanced economic activity and continuing theater. For the good of the city, let it happen.
Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival – Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (504) 895-2266).
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