Published On: Sat, Jan 24th, 2015

Bidders Locked in Tug-of-War over Debt-Ridden New York City Opera

New York City Opera

 

An objection from the losing bidder in a battle over the right to resuscitate the bankrupt New York City Opera means the curtain has yet to fall on the drama in court. a report said.

The winning $1.25 million bid is backed by former City Opera board member and hedge-fund manager Roy Niederhoffer, who plans to revive the company under the direction of Michael Capasso, the head of a small Manhattan opera company in the process of being wound down, the Wall Street Journal said.

On the losing side is architect Gene Kaufman, whose $1.5 million cash bid was rebuffed. Arthur Steinberg, an attorney for Mr. Kaufman, on Thursday asked Judge Sean Lane in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan to give him time to question the opera’s board about why Mr. Kaufman’s proposal wasn’t selected and present it as evidence to the court, the Journal said.

An attorney for City Opera told Judge Lane that the bid from the investor group, which is dubbed NYCO Renaissance, was considered the “highest and best” offer because the group presented a “far better proposal” for continuing the not-for-profit opera’s mission. That includes a firmer vision of when and how they will bring back the opera, plans for a new lease for the opera’s thrift shop and evidence that they are a registered not-for-profit organization, said Lowenstein Sandler LLP attorney Nicole Stefanelli, the report said.

City Opera filed for bankruptcy protection in October 2013 after years of deficits and costly missteps with its endowment. With no sets, costumes or physical assets remaining, the only things up for sale are the rights to use the New York City Opera name and to run its philanthropic thrift shop, according to the Journal.

Mr. Kaufman’s camp has argued for weeks that the sale process has been skewed in NYCO Renaissance’s favor and that it hasn’t been clear what kind of proposal is needed to level the playing field. “The debtor has never articulated to us why they believe NYCO Renaissance is a better offer, ” Mr. Steinberg told the court Thursday, the report said.

Mr. Niederhoffer said Thursday that “we are encouraged by today’s results, ” and that NYCO Renaissance already has more than $2.6 million in pledges from supporters. “We’re confident that we will prevail”, the Journal said.

There have been criticisms of both bids. Capasso founded and ran the DiCapo Opera Theater, which had massive financial problems and has been sued by musicians for back pay. Meanwhile, others have said that Kaufman doesn’t have the necessary experience to run an opera company, Crain’s New York Business said.

When it closed, City Opera owed millions of dollars to New York City Ballet, with which it once shared a theater, and to ticket holders, musicians, former employees and others, the Journal said in a previous report.

Founded in 1943, City Opera was dubbed “the people’s opera” by former New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. It was known for launching the careers of such singers as Beverly Sills and Plácido Domingo, the report said.

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