Saying it's time to pass the torch to an owner who can take the Wilma Theatre to the next level, the development group that owns the iconic downtown Missoula performing arts venue has put it up for sale.
Rick Wishcamper and Justin Metcalf of Rocky Mountain Development Group announced the sale of the Wilma's theater space Wednesday.
"It is a hard decision," Wishcamper said. "(Renovating the theater) has been a huge labor of love and a huge part of Justin and my identities in the community."
But, he said, Rocky Mountain's focus has always been on redevelopment.
"We're really real estate guys, we're apartment guys. ... Justin and I didn't know anything about the entertainment business or running a theater."
The Wilma Theatre is listed for sale at $1.8 million through the real estate agency ZillaState. A sale would include the site's beer and wine license.
The Higgins Avenue-level theater space has seen more than $500,000 worth of renovations since 2007, when Rocky Mountain bought the building, Wishcamper said. That includes a new $200,000 sound system and an overhaul of the once "horrendous" bathrooms on the theater's balcony level.
Wishcamper credited Marcus Duckwitz, the manager of Rocky Mountain-owned Simba Entertainment, with re-energizing the theater, which went from hosting 20 live events each year to 60.
But Wishcamper said Rocky Mountain isn't the right owner to take the Wilma Theatre further down that successful path. An owner with an entertainment industry background or a nonprofit entity might be a better fit.
"It's a beautiful old building that means a lot to the community, it's got to be the right owner," Wishcamper said.
Rocky Mountain intends to carry out strict due diligence on any sale to ensure the new owner retains the spirit and function of the space as an arts and culture venue.
"I think that what we'll do is structure a transaction so there's no, ‘Hey, community, sorry we were wrong, we read this buyer wrong and they turned the space into a Banana Republic,' " Wishcamper said. "We're real estate guys, we know how to do this. It'd be some sort of perpetual use restriction or rider to the deed, something that in real estate language we would say, ‘runs with the land' in perpetuity."
While the commercial real estate market isn't strong, the necessary renovations are complete and the time is right for Rocky Mountain to sell the theater, Wishcamper said.
"We wouldn't be listing it for sale if we didn't intend to sell it, but at the same time we don't have a lender breathing down our necks saying, ‘You've got to sell this and liquidate it,' " he said. "We won't take a lowball offer."
Missoula Downtown Association executive director Linda McCarthy was surprised but not concerned by Rocky Mountain's announcement.
Wishcamper and Metcalf are smart and pragmatic, she said, and the improvements they made will probably open the theater up to a bigger market of possible owners.
"The work they've done on the building as a whole has been exceptional and dramatic," McCarthy said. "It's proven to be a pretty successful venue under Marcus Duckwitz. I would venture to guess (Rocky Mountain) cares enough about the building and that space that they would want to make sure whoever takes it over will keep it sweet."
Rocky Mountain will retain ownership of office space on the Caras Park level.
The restaurant space also on that level and spaces from the second floor up now belong to about 34 "condo" owners. A new theater owner would maintain the theater space, but would join the condo owners association that regulates and governs the outside of the building and the land.
Simba Entertainment will most likely dissolve if new owners take over, unless they also choose to buy the company. While there are no guarantees Duckwitz and other Simba employees will keep their jobs, Wishcamper said a buyer most likely will run a similar operation and need those same people.
At least one concert-goer hopes a sale won't bring a major shuffle.
"I hope they don't change anything about it. I was just there for the Johnny Lang show two or three weeks ago," said Marc Pierce, chief executive officer of Missoula-based Warm Springs Productions. "What a great place."