Troubled dance center Kaatsbaan seeking to sell property

In an attempt to save the project, Kaatsbaan International Dance Center has put its 101 acres and se

In an attempt to save the project, Kaatsbaan International Dance Center has put its 101 acres and seven buildings up for sale. Founding director Bentley Roton said the haven, along the banks of the Hudson River, is being crushed by high mortgage payments and legal fees. And the center’s talks for a merger with Bard College have stalled.

“We are hoping that a philanthropic buyer will step forward and sell it back to us at a reasonable interest rate or lease it back to us,” said Roton of the property, which is listed with WH Guernsey Realtors in Millbrook. Kaatsbaan is asking $6.7 million for the property.

Kaatsbaan, a former horse farm that hosts residencies for professional dance ensembles, has been dogged by money woes for the past two years. In addition to having difficulty paying off its $4 million mortgage, Kaatsbaan has spent $1.1 million in legal fees, $120,000 of which was incurred in an ongoing land dispute with its neighbors, James Welch and Fiona Angelini. The neighbors, under the public name of TBays LLC, purchased 53 acres of Kaatsbaan’s property at a sheriff’s auction for $118,000. Kaatsbaan contends the land sale was illegal, as the dance center was ready, able and willing to pay its creditor prior to the auction. The debate over the property is making its way through the state Appellate Court in Brooklyn.

College offer

Bard College offered to merge with Kaatsbaan in 2006, approaching the center with a lease-back agreement. Essentially, Bard would buy the property, pay off Kaatsbaan’s debts and allow Kaatsbaan and its board to continue to manage and expand the facility. Bard, which is situated a few miles to the south, would use the studios and theater when professional dancers and choreographers were not in residence.

“We were thrilled with the proposal from [President] Leon Botstein,” said Roton.

While the details were being worked out, Angelini joined the board of trustees at Bard. The terms of the agreement then started to unravel.

Kaatsbaan executive director Gregory Cary said the merger died in early August when “Bard insisted on an agreement where they would dictate financial decisions on the Kaatsbaan management. This is highly irregular in a sale and lease-back agreement and far outside of the relationship structured in the approved [by the state Attorney General’s office] lease agreement. Our attorney said it was unacceptable and asked for a closing date on the approved agreements.”

Kaatsbaan never heard back from Bard.

Bard spokesman Mark Primoff would not discuss the issues surrounding the failed merger. However, he did say that Bard “did not feel confident to move forward.”

He added that Bard would like to see Kaatsbaan continue, as it would be a resource for collaboration. “We have an undergraduate dance program that would benefit from Kaatsbaan’s facilities. But, as they say in politics, the devil is in the details.”

Primoff also said that Bard might try to renegotiate with Kaatsbaan at a later date.

Cary added that, despite Kaatsbaan’s continuing debt, the center has maintained a balanced budget, year-to-year, since its establishment in 1990.

Ties to ABT

While Kaatsbaan was established to create a respite for all professional dance companies, it has had a close relationship with American Ballet Theatre. ABT’s artistic director, Kevin MacKenzie, is one of Kaatsbaan’s founders and a member of the board. And project plans include a stage that could mirror the one at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City where ABT performs each spring.

With financial woes stalling most of the project, the stage was never built. And, next month, ABT will perform its first Hudson Valley show — not at Kaatsbaan, but at Bard College’s Fisher Center for the Performing Arts.

Categories: Life and Arts

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