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Historic National Black Theater to Remain Open

Harlem's National Black Theater, which once hosted the likes of Ossie Davis and Nina Simone on its stage, was set to shutter. But with the help of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and investment management firm Baltoro Capital, the historic venue will live on.

“I’m so grateful to the borough president for putting this all together and giving us really a real shot at the future,” said Sade Lythcott, the co-owner of the theater.

The theater faced foreclosure when Lythcott and her brother, Michael, weren’t able to pay $10 million in debt from construction loans and property taxes. That’s when Baltoro Capital stepped in and purchased the 64,000-square-foot theater building. They pledged to keep the historic venue in the location, rent free, but will lease the rest of the spaces.

“We’re very excited to be able to work with the National Black Theater as a partner and to be able to keep them in this iconic space,” said Michael Kelley, the president of Baltoro Capital.

Still, the purchase wasn’t the end of the National Black Theater’s troubles. A lawsuit with its neighbor, Applebee’s, loomed. At a press conference outside the theater’s Fifth Avenue and 125th Street building, Stringer announced that he settled the dispute between the two parties.

Applebee’s filed a lawsuit against Lythcott’s mother, Barbara Ann Teer, the founder of theater, after she sued to prevent the franchise from subleasing space in the theater building. The sublease deal was brokered by Teer’s former business partners. Teer, who passed away in 2008, didn’t want Applebee’s to compromise the historical and cultural integrity of the theater group. Stringer said the Lythcott’s love for their mother and the legacy of the theater was prevalent during the negotiations. But he admitted that brokering a deal with Applebee’s Zane Tankel wasn’t easy.

“I know why he’s a successful businessman,” Stringer said. “When you negotiate with him and his lawyer, they smile now, but I wouldn’t want to do that for a living. But Zane smiled after the agreement, and I think that’s good.”