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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Fog/Mist
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As owners squabble, city denies Orpheum Theatre's liquor license
Curtain down?

Credit:Kristian Knutsen

Is this finally the end of the Orpheum Theatre?

Tuesday the Madison Common Council voted unanimously to deny the historic movie palace a liquor license, based on advice from the city attorney. It's the latest in brinksmanship between the battling co-owners of the Orpheum's business and building entities, Henry Doane and Eric Fleming.

Doane says he took Fleming on to help out with the business and has had nothing but problems.

It's like a sitcom in which each character replays his or her version of events. The only thing everyone agrees on is that Doane has played no role in program management since April, and that it's all very complicated.

On Monday, Doane appeared before the city's Alcohol License Review Committee. "Henry came to remind us that Eric Fleming attempted to take control of the Orpheum at the ALRC a year ago at this time, by trying to switch corporate names and dropping Henry from the liquor license," says Ald. Michael Verveer, whose district includes the theater.

Despite repeated requests by the city clerk's office over a period of months, Fleming failed to provide a Wisconsin seller's identification number on his liquor license application, according to Verveer. The Orpheum Theater Company of Madison corporation simply no longer has a seller's I.D.

"The [Wisconsin] Department of Financial Institutions reported that the corporate status is delinquent as of last fall," says Verveer. State records verify this.

Fleming responds, "Ald. Verveer is not the authority on this." Fleming says that he was not even aware of the issue until 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, but that he's now taking care of state concerns. "If I had known it had been up before the ALRC, I would have been there."

From the city's perspective, all remaining Orpheum events may have to be cancelled. Fleming denies this, and says that outside vendors such as caterers will be used if necessary, a workaround.

From the state's perspective, Orpheum Theater Company of Madison's corporate status could be dissolved. It nearly was in 2009. Fleming claims that doesn't matter because a different entity, Orpheum of Madison Inc., incorporated in 2010, now runs the business.

In March last year, Paul Davis Restoration and Remodeling of Lakeland Counties, based in Cottage Grove, filed suit against the Orpheum, Fleming and Doane for $69,772, including interest; the case will be heard in November.

The theater opened in 1926 as a venue for motion pictures and vaudeville. In April 2011 it stopped showing films. In November it closed its lobby restaurant and primarily became a live entertainment venue. The full stage space was restored thanks to demolition of a wall separating it from the 1960s-era Stage Door room.

"With the new renovation, [the Orpheum] is in better shape physically and maybe financially than it has been in decades," a hopeful Doane told Isthmus in December.

He added, however, "The Orpheum really belongs to the community. Anybody who owns it is just a caretaker, a janitor and a glutton for punishment."

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