Before the Betty Greenberg Center for Performing Arts became home to the Beaumont Community Players a year ago, the facility on Laurel Avenue held a United Artists movie theater for decades.
But between the closing of the movie theater and the reopening by the BCP, the UA Phelan 6 lot had become an overgrown piece of property falling into disrepair.
Now a dispute between the managers of the property and the previous tenants is being heard in a Jefferson County court.
Jury selection for the trial of Mickey Phelan B Land vs. Wallace Theater Corp. began Monday, March 23 in Judge Donald Floyd's 172nd District Court. Phelan is arguing the movie company had a duty to maintain the premises after closing the UA Phelan 6.
According to the plaintiff's petition, Phelan leased the property to United Artists in 1980. In turn, UA assigned the lease to Hollywood Theaters in 1997, which then merged with the Wallace Theater Corp. in 1999.
"Pursuant to a letter dated Aug. 3, 2001, Phelan advised Wallace Theater that the premises at 4155 Laurel … was falling into disrepair," the suit states.
"Wallace was advised that the grounds and the building needed immediate attention … and was requested to adhere to the terms of the lease and get the property cleaned up as soon as possible. Wallace failed and refused to complete the repairs," Phelan alleges.
Court documents show that the theater grounds were attracting "vandals and vagrants," and that a roof leak was causing extensive damage.
Furthermore, tractor-trailer truck operators were using the parking lot to store their trailers.
In 2005, Phelan filed suit against Wallace, alleging the company was owed "substantial monetary damages" for Wallace's alleged breach of contract.
Court papers say Phelan had requested summary judgment against Wallace, but the motion was denied on Aug. 28, 2007.
Phelan is represented in part by attorney Bruce Partain of the Wells, Peyton, Greenberg & Hunt law firm.
Wallace is represented in part by attorney Jill Chatelain.
According to a March 2008 press release, BCP paid $625,000 for the empty theater in September 2007. After $2.5 million in renovations, BCP moved to the Betty Greenberg Center, named for a local philanthropist and art patron, in late 2007.
Additional expansions were set for unveiling in September 2008, but were delayed by hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
Since moving to the new location in Beaumont's West End after a decade in the abandoned Tyrell Park Elementary School, the BCP reports a significant increase in ticket sales.
Case No. E175-822
Editor Marilyn Tennissen contributed material to this story.