Farewell Ohio

Well, folks, it’s official. The Ohio Theater has received written notification that the landlord at 66 Wooster Street, the Ohio's longtime home, is triggering the termination clause in its lease as of August 31, 2010.

Zar Property NY acquired the building in 2008, setting off a saga of real estate wrangling and woe all too familiar to anyone who works in the arts in this city, where gentrification is the name of the game. Lyons had hoped that the tax abatement legislation specifically targeted to small and midsized performance spaces, which is now making its way through (torturously slow) government channels might provide enough of a carrot for Zar.

“It was the one mechanism I saw that was directly applicable to us,” Lyons said. “We were trying to make the argument that we could stay for two years. At that time if this legislation passed, we could maybe put together a package to keep us here on a long-term basis. They just felt it was too long for them to wait, it was too uncertain. They didn’t think at the end of the day it would be enough of a tax break to offset the difference.”

The Ohio will see its current season through, ending with the Ice Factory, its Obie Award-winning summer festival for emerging work.

After that? It’s difficult to say. The Think Tank is in the early stages of discussions with various theaters to see about hosting its programming, and is also investigating the possibility of forming a coalition with some of the core theater companies who have called the Ohio home. This coalition would work to find a new space -- an exciting proposition, but one that Lyons cautioned is in its infancy.

In the meantime, the Ohio will be setting up a space on its web site for people to celebrate the theater’s storied history and maintain a sense of institutional memory, through words and photographs in lieu of bricks and mortar. For more than two decades, this illustrious cultural landmark has been a center for progressive theater, and supported some of the field’s biggest names before they were stars, including Tony Kushner and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

“The farthest dated thing I can find with the Ohio Theater is 1981, so next year would have been the 30-year anniversary,” Lyons said. “For me it’s just important that it not go unmarked. It’s important on so many levels -- historically, also the effect this can have on the community. It’s not just like we’re losing a home -- dozens of companies every year do something here.”

Those companies will now be homeless too. And New Yorkers will lose one more irreplaceable link to their city’s singular cultural past.