Trial against former tenants of UA theater ends in $122K verdict

By David Yates | Mar 26, 2009

Before housing the Beaumont Community Players, a Laurel Street facility was an abandoned UA movie theater.

On Wednesday, March 5, Jefferson County jurors trying a case against the former tenants of the old Laurel UA theater found that the defendant breached its lease and was on the hook for $122,500 in property damages.

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.

A dispute between the managers of the property and the previous tenants was heard in a Jefferson County court last week.

The trial of Mickey Phelan B Land vs. Wallace Theater Corp. began Monday, March 23 in Judge Donald Floyd's 172nd District Court.

Phelan argued the movie company had a duty to maintain the premises after closing the UA Phelan 6.

Jurors agreed.

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 was represented in part by attorney Bruce Partain of the Wells, Peyton, Greenberg & Hunt law firm.

Wallace was 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.

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