Old theatre properties to be auctioned off

Austin Lewis
Bids for the old theatre property on Iglehart Ave. will close April 19. The university has owned the property since they purchased it from the USI Foundation in 2003.

The aged walls of the former Indiana State University – Evansville Playhouse on the westside of the city quietly blended in the with the backdrop of homes straddling Iglehart Avenue.

The Playhouse was built in 1950, with both the church and home across the street built in 1945.

The Catholic Diocese of Evansville owned the church until the USI foundation purchased the entire property in 1970.

Most recently known as the USI Theatre and Scene Shop, the university took full ownership in 2003.

The last reported production in the building was fall of 2006. Now after years of sitting vacant and the university paying electric, water, and sewage on the buildings, the property will be placed up for auction.

Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve Bridges recommended selling the property and met with members of the nearby neighborhood to discuss future plans after a recommendation and vote before the Board of Trustees in January 2017.

“I did meet with the residents and sent letters back in the first quarter of 2017,” Bridges said. “We met with them to explain why the university is selling the property, and I did not want them to be surprised when they saw signs going up.”

Bridges said there was “nothing negative” from meetings he had with about 15 nearby residents.

The Mallette Studio Theatre in the lower level of the Liberal Arts building began hosting the theatre operations after the Playhouse was shut down.

“To put a sign in like it was a residential property, it’s probably not going to attract a lot of attention from the average buyer,” he said.

University Archivist Jennifer Green said the original building lacked some basic necessities for a functional theatre, including certain sound and effects.

The church served as the scene shop, with the house being used for costumes and theater for performances.

Bridges said that over the years, the property has been used predominantly for storage and that changes to the inside would require someone with specific needs.

Bridges said it would be in the best interest to put the vacant properties on the tax roll, instead of just sitting there.

“The property became surplus for the university,” he said. “They are really unique properties.”

All USI Theatre operations have since been housed in the Performance Center since it was opened in 2015.

A sealed-bid auction, also known as a blind auction, allows bidders to simultaneously submit their bids, meaning no other bidder knows the amount of another. The highest paying bidder will pay the price they submitted.

“Due to the unique nature it made more sense to auction these off with a sealed bid auction,” Bridges said. “There will be reserve amounts, so if none of the bids come in at the price, we will have to go from there, but I’m optimistic we will get a price that will allow us to sell those properties.”

Bridges said he wants to get the most competitive offer, stopping short of providing monetary bidding amounts.

“I don’t want to give those numbers out,” he said. “Most of those bids would come right at those numbers. I’d prefer it to be a competitive auction and I don’t want to tell them upfront.”

Bridges said the properties could potentially be sold as three different entities, dependant on how well the bidding goes.

“We will look at it in both ways and whatever is the best route,” Bridges said. “I want to be able to sell all the properties because it’s not something we do not use and I don’t want to leave abandoned property around.”

The properties have all been appraised by three governor-appointed representatives. The university must follow their set price or slightly higher.

Bridges said that the process has been taking longer due in part to a transition between two governors.

After former Indiana Governor Mike Pence was elected Vice President at the end of 2016, the state government was put in a period of transition with newly sworn-in Governor Eric Holcomb.

“No complaint on the process, but the Governor’s office was new and we were the first institution to sell property,” Bridges said.

Bids close at 12 p.m. April 19, and Bridges said that he hopes to report the final decision at the next Board of Trustees meeting April 27.

“I’ll have a recommendation and price in hand and ask for their approval to sell that property,” Bridges said.

Under current rules, the deed to the land would have to head to Governor Holcomb’s desk for his signature over to the buyer of the property once approved by the Board of Trustees.  

The signs indicating the “USI Theatre Scene Shop,” will be removed following the purchase of the properties.

The funds received from the sale of the property will go back to the university.

“We look to do a number of different things with those funds,” Bridges said. “We could leave it in reserves or add to another property, all of those types of items are being looked at.”