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September 12, 2008

Malibu Vineyard in danger of closing

Richie Sambora with Los Lobos at a benefit concert for the Midnight Mission of Los Angeles in March 2007. It was one of many events that have taken place at Malibu Performing Arts Center. The owners of MPAC are in danger of foreclosure on the property that houses the center. Photo by Devon Meyers

Malibu Vineyard in danger of closing

A notice of foreclosure has been filed against the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Malibu, which has been in Malibu for 15 years.

By Olivia Damavandi / Special to The Malibu Times

The land and building that houses the Malibu Performing Arts Center, where the likes of Barbra Streisand, Moby and Tom Petty have recorded or performed, and benefit concerts sporting such names as Dennis Leary, the cast of MAD TV, Jackson Browne, Los Lobos and Martin Short, is in danger of closing due to an impending foreclosure.

Although a legal notice in the Aug. 28 issue of The Malibu Times states that the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Malibu (which owns the property and building that houses MPAC) is in foreclosure, the organization's owners say they are not. The fellowship says it has been charged with a disproportionate civil lawsuit, and judicial and nonjudicial foreclosure action by its lender in response to late payments on a loan, which the fellowship owner says were caused by last November's Corral fire. Legal fees have significantly increased the loan payments and the two parties, Vineyard Christian Fellowship and lender Marshall Investment Group, are arguing over the amount of the final settlement of the lawsuit.

The fellowship was formerly known as the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church, until a rift in 2004 between church leaders and the founding pastor, Dave Owen, caused Owen to leave and start a new church in Agoura. Since its initial opening 10 years ago at its current location on Stuart Ranch Road behind Malibu City Hall, the 40,000-square-foot Malibu Performing Arts Center has been built with state-of-the-art recording and sound systems, a 500-seat theater and dance studios.

In 2005, a $12,750,000 loan was granted to Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Malibu by the Minnesota-based Marshall Investment Group. Toward the end of 2007, the fellowship informed the investment group it was refinancing its property and planned to simultaneously pay off the loan. However, the Corral Fire, the fellowship said, interrupted the refinancing. The fire did not damage the organization's building; but the grounds were destroyed and necessitated $100,000 in repairs, stated James Ellis Allen, the attorney representing the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, in a Feb. 15 declaration. In addition, Allen had stated that the fellowship's operations were shut down for several months because of the fire damage and ensuing rains.

According to a paper trail of documents, the fellowship did try to make good on its loan, making partial payments, however, it wasn't enough for the lenders, who gave warning that unless a full payment on overdue notices was made by Jan. 2, it would file a notice of default or foreclosure.

Since then, the parties have been quarrelling over exact dates of notices of payments due and payments made, and the original loan with the Marshall Group has increased.

"They haven't given us time to pay them [the payments] off before they start something else," said fellowship attorney Allen, who added that since the market value of the fellowship's property and land as of January is worth more than $27,000,000, it wouldn't make sense to give up the building, as it is worth more than the loan.

"They're [Marshall Investment Group] not in danger of not being paid, they don't want to cooperate and work with us so they can get it paid," Allen reiterated, and stated that it is possible Marshall is using the lawsuit as a negotiation tool to acquire the building.

Attorneys for the Marshall Group could not be reached for this story.

Gene Shively, Vineyard Christian Fellowship property manager and member of its board of directors, and head of MPAC, said in an interview with The Malibu Times that before the Stuart Ranch Road property was bought, the fellowship initially met at Webster Elementary School in 1993.

Shively was directly involved with the 1998-99 purchase and construction of the building on the organization's property at 23825 Stuart Ranch Road, which now houses the Malibu Performing Arts Center. He said though it always owned the property, the fellowship was not financially able to purchase the entire building. The Arm & Hammer Foundation acquired a master lease of half the building to institute a private arts school, and Shiveley concurrently created the Malibu Performing Arts Center, a private, new media distribution venue that opened in 2001.

Once Arm & Hammer Foundation's lease was up, Shiveley suggested "letting the building pay for itself" by renting it out to private users by the hour. In 2004-05 Shively was in charge of building the dance studio, now occupied by "Dance for Kids." By 2006, all construction was complete.

Shively stated that rumors about Vineyard Christian Fellowship's financial inability to make loan payments couldn't be further from the truth.

"The recording industry has never been worse, but the music industry has never been better," he said, adding that some of the world's most famous music artists frequent MPAC to make music videos, record albums and rehearse live shows, among many other purposes including benefit concerts. He said a commitment of privacy toward the artists prevented him from stating their names.

When asked whether MPAC's lack of public advertising has financially negative effects, Shively explained it is the venue's integrity of the privacy of its famous clients that has made it the reputable venue it is today, especially because so many of the clients are Malibu residents.

"Its [MPAC's] design is to be a creative utopia for the local creative community. Therefore, it is necessary to keep it under the radar," he said.

Attorney Allen said he expects the impending judicial and non-judicial foreclosures to be terminated. "I've been working with lawyers to enter agreements to reach a fund and work things out. I don't think there's any foreclosure that will take place," he said.

Posted by riesambo at September 12, 2008 06:53 AM