COLUMBIA — MU is set to lease the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts from the Missouri Symphony Society, said Carole Sue DeLaite, co-president of the symphony society.
The deal includes a three-year lease, with an option for MU to buy the theater at the end of that time.
"We think the contract is being settled today," DeLaite said around noon Thursday. "We've been negotiating for many months, and we hope the final documents are signed today."
The Missouri Theatre, 203 S. Ninth St., has been in poor financial health for some time. In particular, the Missouri Symphony Society has struggled to maintain the debt service on loans related to the theater's 2008 renovation.
Since Aug. 1, 2010, the theater has been run entirely by volunteer staff, except for technical and clean-up crews associated with some performances.
Meanwhile, Jesse Auditorium, which has 1,732 seats, now averages 230 events a year and can no longer meet the demand for its use, according to a release from the MU News Bureau.
Once the deal is approved, the symphony society will continue to use the 1,216-seat Missouri Theatre for its offices and as a base for the Missouri Symphony Orchestra, the Plowman Chamber Music Competition and the Piano Showcase, according to the release.
MU will use the theater for events for the School of Music — which DeLaite said has been one of the theater's biggest renters — and for some University Concert Series performances, commencements, Summer Welcome, Greek Week and more, the release said.
The University of Missouri System Board of Curators has been briefed on the agreement, but its approval is not required unless the university wants to buy the building, the MU release said.
Calling the deal a win-win for Columbia, DeLaite said that the theater is an important part of the arts community and that the partnership with MU is simply a new era for the theater. It was built in 1928 and has a storied history as a concert hall and movie house.
"It's a big job, and the university has the expertise to do that," she said.