Questions remain after Castle, City records released

(ABC 6 News) — One month after the Castle building’s owners defaulted on their agreement with the City of Rochester, the fate of the building is still uncertain.

The City of Rochester released emails between Castle Community, LLC member Scott Hoss and representatives, city officials, Naura Anderson of Threshold Arts, and other parties related to the programming and use of the Castle Building.

The documents paint an incomplete picture of negotiations between the Castle, Echo Church, and the city as the March 31 deadline approached.

RELATED: Echo Church to leave the Castle |

There is currently no firm agreement in place between the building owners and the City of Rochester, and the Castle’s current tenants have either left the building, or will do so after Saturday.

One email suggests that Threshold Arts, which appeared to move on from the building at the start of this year, may return.
Anderson, Hoss, and the rest of the Castle Community, LLC have not responded to repeated requests for comment from ABC 6 News, or to confirm that Threshold Arts will move back into the Castle building.

Why did the agreement fall through?

As of March 9, the City of Rochester had approved a “Compliance Letter of Understanding” which would have allowed the Castle owners to rent the building to Echo Church and Heather and Brandon Sampson (as potential organization "Amplify Arts"), beyond March 31 as long as arts and cultural programming was in place by mid-April.

The agreement, updated March 11, stated that the Castle would lease space to Echo Church and the Sampsons for a time period that would extend beyond the expiration of the purchase agreement’s extended five-year and three-month term, wherein the tenants would work to operate a coffee shop, book store, and recording studio as detailed in the original purchase agreement.

RELATED: Echo Church to remain in Castle building; former Yoga Tribe owner to head new arts group |

The letter of understanding also outlines the group would provide program arts and cultural events on the second and third floors.

Emails viewed by ABC 6 News show that the city reached out several times during March to go-between Michael Busch of Paramark Real Estate Services, who said on March 16 and 21 that he was waiting for a response from Castle Community attorney Bob Benner of Dunlap & Seeger.

Benner’s response to the City was not included in the documents provided. ABC 6 News has filed a request for the response.
The Castle, Echo Church, and Amplify Arts did not sign the agreement, as indicated by Echo Church’s departure from the Castle and move to Mayo High School.

Threshold Arts back in the Castle?
One document indicated that in the absence of Echo Church and Amplify Arts, Threshold Arts will move back into the building.

On March 3, Busch wrote to the City for an update on the Chateau Theatre/Threshold Arts lease.

“I’m asking because if for some reason Amplify Arts and the Church are not approved at the Castle, our other option is for Threshold to state at the Castle and fulfill their current lease agreement,” he wrote. If this occurs and Threshold signs a lease at the Chateau, the owners of the Castle will be concerned about the conflict this might bring to both The Castle and The City.”

The City of Rochester may share those concerns.

Some of the documents also suggest that Threshold Arts’ contract to program the Chateau Theater is in danger.

On Feb. 7, Absolute Theatre co-founder and Threshold Arts partner James Douglass wrote an impassioned letter to the City Council, included in the emails viewed by ABC 6 News, asking them not to “reverse your decision on the Chateau Theater.”

“We no longer see a path back to our previous location at the Castle Community and I don’t believe that even if some of the vendors are restored at the Castle that this breach of contract hasn’t caused irreparable harm,” he wrote.

Threshold Arts received the city’s approval to program the Chateau on Jan. 20, 2022.

RELATED: Rochester City Council makes decisions on Chateau Threatre and Rochester parks |

In late March, emails between Naura Anderson and Cherie Thurlow of the Rochester Chamber indicate that Anderson was once again scheduling events for the Castle owners.

As of Thursday, April 28, there was no contract in place between Threshold Arts and the City related to the Chateau Theater.

How did we get here?

  • The Castle Community, LLC won a bid to purchase the Castle building, formerly called The Armory, in 2017. At the time of the agreement, the prospective owners agreed to use the building for arts and cultural organizations and activities, and to seek city approval for a substantive change in the property’s use within the first five years of ownership. The Castle Community, LLC, consisting of Eric Deutsch (Pace International), Ross Henderson (Henderson Investments, which owns Centerville Apartments), Scott Hoss (Think Bank, Paramark Real Estate) and Leyzer Topel (property owner/developer) worked with Threshold Arts founder Naura Anderson and Cameo Restaurant owner Zach Ohly to submit the proposal to the City Council. They were selected from three potential buyers.
  • The space opened as “The Castle Community” in February of 2019. Castle is Open for Business |
  • In Sept. 2020, the Castle Community, LLC announced that Echo Church would lease the building for a calendar year. “We thank our existing tenants for allowing us to take this opportunity to pivot, reassess, conserve and grow resources, and bring the Castle roaring back in 2021,” an announcement on the Castle’s website reads. Over the course of that year, Threshold Arts rented a storefront on Broadway in downtown Rochester.
  • Castle owners extended Echo Church’s lease in October and November of 2021, which prevented the building’s previous tenants from returning to the space.
  • On Nov. 11, the City of Rochester warned Castle Community, LLC owners that they were in breach of contract while Echo Church remained in the building. The city gave Castle owners 60 days to come back into compliance – i.e., use the building for arts and cultural programming again. The Castle owners did not come back into compliance during that period.
  • The Castle Community owners asked for, and received, a three-month extension in January. They were allowed to rent the building to Echo Church until March 31, 2022, with the expectation that they would come back into compliance at the end of that period. The Post-Bulletin reported hat Scott Hoss identified then-unknown arts organization “Amplify Arts” as the frontrunner in programming negotiations. Castle Community receives three-month extension.
  • On January 7, The Post-Bulletin eported that Castle tenant Cameo Restaurant filed a court complaint against the owners, alleging that use of the space by Echo Church and Queen City Coffee and Juice violated its contract.
  • On Jan. 20, 2022, the City announced that Threshold Arts, now out of the Castle for a year and change, had won the bid to program the Chateau Theater. Anderson had previously written to the city council that although contract negotiations with the Castle Community were still underway, she did not believe the arts organization would return to the building. Contract negotiations were to follow. Rochester City Council makes decisions on Chateau Threatre and Rochester parks |
  • On Feb 16, Castle Owners proposed that Echo Church would remain in the building after March 31, with affiliated Rochester residents Heather and Brandon Sampson handling arts and music programming. Echo Church to remain in Castle building; former Yoga Tribe owner to head new arts group |
  • On April 1, ABC 6 News reported that while there was no contract in place between the City of Rochester and the Castle owners, Echo Church had announced its departure from the building. Echo Church to leave the Castle | , Echo Church moving service to Mayo High School |
  • Castle tenant Cameo Restaurant announced its closure on April 27. Cameo closing its doors this weekend |
  • On April 28, the City of Rochester released emails between Scott Hoss, Naura Anderson, and the Castle Community, LLC to members of the Rochester media.