CHAMPAIGN - Although the landlord-tenant dispute at the New Art Theatre appears headed for litigation, the longtime art film establishment is unlikely to close.
David Kraft of Urbana, who owns the downtown Champaign building which houses the theater, four apartments and a barbershop, said Wednesday that others have expressed interest in running the Art.
?It's in the hands of the attorneys,? Kraft said. ?But I'm not going to continue like this. I can't talk to Tom at all. ... I can't fathom us working things out.?
However, that does not mean the Art is in danger of closing. Kraft said he has every intention of making sure that the theater is a viable, successful business and that it continues to show art, independent and foreign films - just as it has since 1987.
?This dispute isn't only about the rent,? Kraft added. ?This theater needs to be professionally operated. I'm committed to it. I want to find somebody who wants to make a success of this business.?
The dispute between Kraft and New Art Theatre owner Tom Angelica started in early January when Angelica became arrears in his rent.
Kraft mailed a letter to Angelica to contact him by Jan. 15 ?so I could find out what was going on and whether he was still interested in operating the theater,? Kraft said. ?He never contacted me.?
Kraft then sent another letter to Angelica that his lease was being terminated and he could not operate the New Art past the end of February.
?He has not provided me with evidence of insurance. He has not paid all of his January rent and now he's past due on his February rent. Nor has he paid his security deposit,? Kraft said.
Angelica is fighting the attempt to evict him. His lease for the theater runs through December.
?I've responded to his letter and sent him a letter. I've been talking to my attorney. That's about all I want to say,? Angelica said.
The New Art has been hurt by declining attendance over the past year or so, which Angelica blames on GKC's Beverly Cinemas and Goodrich's Savoy 16. Both multiscreen theaters are now regularly programming art and independent releases - which had been the sole domain of the Art.
In the meantime, Kraft has heard from several people interested in running the New Art in the event that Angelica leaves. Skip Huston, who owns and operates the Avon Theatre in downtown Decatur, is the most credible and experienced of those who have shown interest, according to Kraft.
?Skip has expressed an interest and I am impressed with his professionalism. I want this to be a place I can be proud of, and Skip can do that. I think a lot of him and I think a lot of the way he runs his place in Decatur,? Kraft said.
The Avon also shows art, independent and foreign releases, along with the occasional mainstream movie that gets passed over by multiplexes. Through savvy marketing, a clean auditorium and friendly atmosphere, and a concession stand ?that serves the best popcorn anywhere,? according to Huston, the Avon has established a profitable foothold in the Decatur market.
?My organization and I are very interested in this situation,? said Huston, who is familiar with the New Art. ?Should it become available for us to take over the operation, we have a lot of ideas and we think we can make it better than before. We've done it in Decatur, and we can do it here.?