Carver Theater to ticket holders: 'the theater is permanently closed'


The Carver Theater in 2014. - PHOTO BY JEANIE RIESS
  • The Carver Theater in 2014.

Ticket holders for a concert scheduled this month at the Carver Theater received an email that the venue — built in 1950 and recently renovated with the aid of a slate of tax credits — “is permanently closed” as of Nov. 14.

Eugene Oppman, who has owned the building since 1987, says the collapse of First NBC Bank Holding Company spelled doom for the theater, which worked with the state and tax credits to secure loans to fund renovations before its grand reopening in 2014.

But with First NBC’s bankruptcy, Oppman says the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) sat on the loans, and within the last few weeks, those loans were sold, which Oppman said had changed the terms of the loan. Oppman previously was paying interest interest-only and believes he now is responsible for interest and principle, which likely had “pushed up my debt servicing, tripled it and quadrupled it,” he said. The theater didn't pull in enough revenue to keep up.

“That was the nail in the coffin when they started demanding from me $30,000, $40,000 a month,” Oppman said. “I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ … Everything’s liquidated.”

As The New Orleans Advocate explained in its coverage of the fall of First NBC, the bank had loaned to projects that relied on tax credits to spur development and invested in projects using those credits (including the Carver, the National World War II Museum and the Saint Hotel).

“In turn, the company recorded the credits' benefit on its balance sheet as expected cash flow from future tax benefits, essentially profit, and they ultimately accounted for much of its earnings in recent years,” Richard Thompson explained. “But to use the credits, the bank needed to actually earn a profit on which to pay taxes. Since that wasn’t happening, the credits began to pile up into what's called a deferred tax credit. As that figure grew on the bank's balance sheet, banking experts noticed something was amiss.”

“I think you’re going to find I’m not the only one,” Oppman said about the impact of First NBC’s demise. Oppman says he now is trying to find an investor to compete with the new buyers.

The building — listed on the National Register of Historic Places — has served the predominantly black neighborhood and Lafitte housing area for decades as a movie theater, concert hall and event space.

It closed in 1980, then reopened a few years later as the Carver Medical Clinic. Oppman, an optometrist, bought the building in 1991. The building underwent extensive flood damage following Hurricane Katrina and the 2005 levee failures, and it reopened in 2014 after an $8 million renovation with support from the Louisiana Office of Community Development (OCD) and tax credits. In 2012, Crescent Growth Capital helped the theater, First NBC and the OCD "close and fund a $5.5 million Qualified Equity Investment and a $2.25 million OCD Loan" to fund renovations.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu held his 2015 State of the City address at the theater, which also hosted concerts from many local artists as well as Snoop Dogg, The English Beat, and Community Records and its annual Block Party, services for Bo Dollis and Travis "Trumpet Black" Hill, and, recently, a memorial for New Orleans writer Deb Cotton and a 2017 mayoral debate on cultural issues.

Oppman tried to sell the building for $5.5 million in 2016,  but with new manager Chris Ritter, the theater rebooted in January 2017 with a weekly local music schedule, which fizzled out after a few months. The theater has hosted a handful of concerts and events since March.

This story has been updated to include comment from theater owner Eugene Oppman.

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