The Odeum Theatre belongs primarily to the Odeum Corporation, board member Jeff Gladstone told the Town Council Monday night. And, he said, since no mortgage payments were ever made, a $500,000 promissory note from 1992 is no longer valid.
“At this point there is no legal obligation to pay back the note,” said Gladstone in a recent interview. “We are the owners of the property. There is no question to a certainly that we own the property."
Stephen Erinakes disagrees.
“In their mind, they acquired a piece of property for nothing,” he said Friday.
Erinakes’s mother, Blanche, was the owner of the theater when the Odeum Corp. was established in 1991 as part of the move to transform the theater into a nonprofit organization. One of the benefits of nonprofit status is tax-free status, freeing the building from property tax obligations.
Blanche Erinakes has since died. Over the years, Stephen Erinakes worked closely with the Odeum Corporation in building a performance venue. Then the Odeum closed its doors, in 2007. Tighter fire regulations required renovations the corporation could not pay for.
When the Town of East Greenwich decided to put the Odeum back on the tax rolls in 2009 – it sent the corporation a $20,000 property tax bill – Erinakes and Odeum Corp. Board President Frank Prosnitz appeared before the Town Council to seek time to reorganize and reopen, retaining nonprofit status.
Since then, the Odeum Board has undergone a nearly complete transformation, with many new members, including Gladstone, a lawyer. Earlier this year, they received a $155,000 grant from the Champlin Foundations to help complete renovations needed to reopen. The Town Council has granted them a series of extensions to reopen. The Odeum now has until October 31 to reopen or face having to pay taxes for 2009-12.
Earlier this year, the board decided to do a title search to determine who exactly owned the Odeum Theatre building. They hired Pilgrim Title to do the search. Pilgrim’s search turned up four owners: the Odeum Corp., which it said owned 71 percent, and three others, who owned 9.5 percent each.
“There were three transfers in 1984 of just under 10 percent [each] to three of Blanche Erinakes’s grandkids,” said Gladstone.
Apparently, no one ever told the three grandchildren, he said. Board members have met with all three of them in recent weeks, outlining the situation. One of the grandchildren, Stefan Coutoulakis, will be joining the board, Gladstone told the Town Council on Monday.
Stephen Erinakes said he has not received any documentation that convinces him he does not own the building.
“They haven’t come up with any proof,” he said. He said his lawyer had asked for documentation but had not received anything. Gladstone, alternatively, said the Pilgrim Title information had been sent to Erinakes’s lawyer three months ago.
Erinakes said he never demanded mortgage payments because he knew the nonprofit was cash-strapped. “Why am I going to ask for money when I know it doesn’t exist?” he said.
“I call them false because they take advantage of a certain situation. These people are hiding behind the law,” said Erinakes. “This building was in our family for 60 years.”
Monday night, after appearing before the Town Council, Frank Prosnitz offered his own thoughts.
“Steve and I worked together for a lot of years,” he said. “We have welcomed him. We hope that he comes on the board. Our only issue is to reopen the theater and do what we did before and honor his family.”