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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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CenterStage lease is being disputed

The operators of the CenterStage performing arts center in downtown Spokane could be headed to court after being told by their landlord, Odd Girls LLC, that the lease they’ve been operating under is invalid.

Stanley Perdue, attorney for CenterStage, said he planned to file a motion today in Spokane County Superior Court asking a judge to decide whether the lease is valid. At issue is whether the Odd Girls’ former property manager, Doug Smith, had the authority to sign the lease.

“Doug Smith was their appointed property manager. They don’t dispute that. He was in charge of taking rent on a monthly basis from CenterStage. He was also in collaboration with CenterStage in paying a portion of the renovation of CenterStage,” Perdue said. “When we gave the rent checks to him, the Odd Girls never said they never got their rent.”

Philip Brooke, attorney for the Odd Girls, said the rent checks were accepted on the assumption that CenterStage had a “month-to-month oral lease agreement. They allowed CenterStage to take possession of the property and make improvements with the assumption that a written long-term lease would be entered into at a later date.”

Brooke said CenterStage “made assumptions about his (Doug Smith’s) authority that they were not entitled to make.”

Doug Smith could not be reached for comment.

CenterStage, at 1017 W. First Ave., is one of several businesses in the block bounded by First, the railroad tracks, Monroe and Madison. All the buildings on the block except the Montvale Hotel are owned by the Odd Girls LLC. CenterStage, which opened in April 2003, offers dinner theater, a jazz club and concerts.

The motion Perdue plans to file today says Tim Behrens, managing artistic director of CenterStage, began negotiations in October 2002 to lease the building. He negotiated with Jill Smith, Doug Smith’s wife, who was a “managing member of the Odd Girls,” the motion says.

Brooke said Jill Smith was never a member of the Odd Girls. He said the organization is made up of Ann Wyman and Wade Ballinger, both of Seattle. Steve Elliott, who is now managing the block, said Jill Smith managed EarthGoods, a business Wyman owned on the block that has since closed. Previous news reports have said Jill Smith was co-owner of that business and a partner in the Odd Girls.

Jill Smith also could not be reached for comment. Doug and Jill Smith are longtime members of Spokane’s business community, and formerly owned the specialized food company Buckeye Beans and Herbs.

Perdue’s motion says that Jill Smith instructed Behrens to continue all future lease negotiations with Doug Smith. It says that agreements were made about sharing the costs of renovations that were made to the building in preparation for the opening of CenterStage. Many of those renovations were made, with the parties sharing the costs, the motion says.

Behrens said he and his wife, Leslie Ann Grove, CenterStage’s music director, have invested thousands of dollars of their own money into the business on the basis of the lease. The motion requests reimbursement for those expenses if the lease is declared invalid.

The motion also says that on two occasions Odd Girls member Ann Wyman visited CenterStage and encouraged Behrens to work with Doug Smith on the final lease. The final lease was signed in November 2003 by Doug Smith, as property manager, and Jack Delehanty, as president of the board of CenterStage.

Ann Wyman acknowledged that the Odd Girls are experiencing problems with CenterStage, but directed media inquiries to Elliott. “We’re having difficulties, but it’s not the end of the world,” she said. “I’m not anticipating any great frenzy or any great rift.”

Brooke said the Odd Girls want CenterStage to stay and be successful, but under a lease that’s acceptable to both parties. The current lease is too long and requires too much of the landlords, he and Elliott said.

Both the Odd Girls and CenterStage representatives say they want to negotiate to reach a settlement but say the other side refuses to do so.

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