Two years after undergoing a full renovation intended to bring back its glory days of more than a half-century ago, the Carver Theater is up for sale.
Along with the well-known landmark itself, the $5.5 million asking price — about half of what was spent restoring the theater, which has no fixed seating but holds 925 people — includes additional properties that are both developed and undeveloped. Altogether, they span more than a block along Orleans Avenue.
The Carver Theater opened in a segregated New Orleans in 1950 as a moviehouse for black New Orleanians and was converted to a medical clinic in the 1980s. The clinic largely treated residents of the nearby Lafitte housing development.
Dr. Eugene Oppman, an optometrist, began leasing an office in the building in 1987. He bought it four years later and oversaw its renovation.
Since it reopened in 2014, the theater has hosted a mix of public and private events, including wedding receptions and musical performances.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu delivered his State of the City address there last year. More recently, Snoop Dogg performed a late-night show there during Jazz Fest.
In addition to the 17,613-square-foot theater, the properties up for sale include a vacant two-story, 3,232-square-foot commercial building and a two-story, 4,020-square-foot commercial building that houses a bakery and a barbershop that are both leased until early 2019, according to Richard Stone, a broker with NAI/Latter & Blum Commercial in New Orleans.
The offering also includes four undeveloped lots.
“This property package is being offered at far below the acquisition and renovation costs,” Latter & Blum said in materials marketing the sale, “and represents a tremendous opportunity to acquire a local landmark with major historical and cultural significance.”
Oppman, 55, began considering selling the theater about eight months ago, he said Wednesday, and recently decided that it was “time to just move on.”
“It took me almost eight years to bring it back to where it is now, and that was my main mission — to get it renovated and back into commerce,” said Oppman, who works in Tangipahoa Parish but lives in Marigny. “I’ve done that, so I’m going back to being an eye doctor.”
Given the site’s proximity to the French Quarter, Oppman had sought to redevelop the surrounding lots and build restaurants and other attractions that could turn it into “more of a destination” for out-of-town visitors as well as locals.
“We have the real estate for it,” he said. “I just haven’t had the wherewithal and the time and the funding to execute that kind of thing at that level.”
Instead, those plans will be up to property’s next owner to decide, Oppman said. “I would like to see somebody do what I was talking about doing,” he said, “so that if you were coming from New Jersey, that would be a place to go, as opposed to just locals who want to go there for a wedding or a local show.”
The extensive restoration work was funded partly by federal and state tax credits, state incentives for building major live performance infrastructure projects and funding from the state Office of Community Development.
The theater — named after pioneering African-American scientist George Washington Carver — reopened as several other major New Orleans theaters also came back online. That process started with the nearby city-owned Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts in 2009, followed by the Joy Theatre in 2011 and the Saenger and Civic theaters in 2013. The Orpheum Theater reopened in 2015.
For a prospective buyer, investing in the already-restored Carver Theater would likely be a less expensive endeavor than starting from scratch elsewhere, Stone said.
Oppman “never went into this looking to make a fortune,” Stone said. “It was something he felt he was just compelled to do, and he’s kind of completed his mission. But absolutely, if somebody were to re-create what he did, they could not do it for anywhere near what we’re offering to sell it for.”
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.