Landmark Theatre settles tax debt with city

Historic theatres, like the Landmark, are a wonder to behold, but a challenge to maintain.

The theatre was saved in the mid 1970s and switched to a not-for-profit. Complicated tax arrangements followed and, while the Landmark has been current since 2001, older tax bills have been a drag on operations.

There is reason to believe a new era may be opening for the downtown jewel. Wednesday morning, the Syracuse Common Council forgave $ 215,644 of the Landmark Theatre's tax debt from 1992 to 2001 in exchange for city usage of the facilities. The measure passed by a vote of 8-1.

"It's a trade of usage. It costs us money, it costs the city money. So we're trading uses," says Landmark Theatre Executive Director Denise Fresina DiRienzo.

The deal doesn't just settle a long standing tax debt, it also allows the Landmark to move ahead with a major expansion. With the tax lien removed, the theater staff plans to expand the backstage area so they can finally host Broadway tours and other big shows.

"Our stage is so short. People don't realize we were built as a movie house. It was built to handle the movie screen and not much else, says DiRienzo. We don't have the dressing rooms, we don't have the rehearsal rooms, we don't have the wardrobe rooms."

At least one Common Councilor isn't thrilled with the deal. Democrat Lance Denno said Tuesday that the free use trade is hindered by bad accounting, and he also questions why the city should give the Landmark special treatment and forgive other tax bills.

"There is still the issue of the special assessments, says Denno. There is an outstanding water debt of $57,000."

Landmark Theater staff say that they hope to start work on the stage expansion in 2010.