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BOSTON-Martin Berman, one of the Colonial Theater’s owners, has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to prevent Emerson College from taking over the venerated facility in the heart of the city’s theater district.

Emerson signed a 20-year master lease with Berman’s former business partner, Bryce Tinmouth, which includes an option to purchase the building. If Emerson exercises that option within five years, the communications college can buy the theater, as well as its 10 stories of office space, for $35 million.

“I am disputing the general partner’s right to do anything without my approval,” Berman tells GlobeSt.com. “All the negotiations were secret.” Berman says he received a phone message that informed him that the lease deal with sale option would be taking place.

Berman and his sister currently own 5% of the building. His family bought the property 20 years ago, but entered into a leveraged buyout with Tinmouth that slowly shifted the ownership. Berman contends that the deal with Emerson will trigger “serious tax consequences” for him and his sister. Calls to Tinmouth were not returned by deadline.

Berman says that his main concern is for the future of the theater. “I made a personal vow that nothing would happen to the theater,” he says. He adds that the 100,000 sf of office space in the building essentially subsidizes the theater. “That’s the way it always was,” he says. “It’s very questionable what Emerson will decide to do.”

But David Rosen, spokesperson for the college, tells GlobeSt.com that the college’s plan is for the theater to continue to operate as a theater. He points out that the building’s location is right in the middle of the college’s new campus–Emerson recently acquired the buildings surrounding the theater–and it protects the college’s options for the future. He says that the college has not yet decided whether it will exercise its right and buy the building.

“This yarn that Marty Berman is spinning about Emerson closing the theater is nonsense,” says Rosen. He points out that Emerson recently pumped $15 million into the nearby Majestic Theater to restore it. “The suggestion that Emerson would take this jewel and close it down is preposterous,” he adds.

Clear Channel Communications, which runs the theater, has eight years left on its lease. Rosen says the company will be given an option to renew and if an agreement can’t be reached the college will get someone else to run the theater. “Emerson will not shut down the theater,” he emphasizes.

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