AFTER A North Philadelphia church that owned the historic Metropolitan Opera House began a partnership with developer Eric Blumenfeld, the pastor had a hard time finding him to discuss the planned $10 million renovation.
According to a lawsuit filed Feb. 5 in Common Pleas Court, the Rev. Mark Hatcher, pastor of the Holy Ghost Headquarters Revival Center at the Met Inc., "was reduced to chasing down his 'partner' on the street to secure a face-to-face meeting with him."
On another occasion, the suit says, Hatcher "visited Blumenfeld's offices to discuss the project's progress [or lack thereof], and Blumenfeld literally ran out the back door upon realizing Reverend Hatcher's approach."
The suit claims that "Blumenfeld misled the Church into relinquishing title to and giving him [Blumenfeld] a controlling interest in the Met."
The massive structure, on Broad Street near Poplar, was built for Oscar Hammerstein in 1908 in the Classic Revival architectural style and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The church bought the Met for $250,000 in 1997. It is now worth more than $20.9 million, according to city records, which show that Blumenfeld gained control of the title in February 2013 for $1.
The suit claims that Blumenfeld used fraud to convince the church to partner with him by misleading church officials about his finances.
Citing Blumenfeld's other legal troubles in 2012, including a foreclosed riverfront project in South Philadelphia and litigation with business partner Ronald Caplan, the suit says that Blumenfeld "never disclosed any of this, and in fact, he falsely represented that he and his businesses were in sound financial condition."
The suit says that Blumenfeld began talks with the church in the summer of 2012 and promised that the congregation would be able to return to the Met for church services by February 2014.
Instead, the suit says: "Even with a controlling interest in the property, Blumenfeld never restored the Met as promised. Rather he gutted the auditorium the Church had worked so hard to renovate, effectively displacing the Church and left the unfinished project in shambles."
An official with Blumenfeld's EB Realty had no comment on the lawsuit yesterday. An attorney representing Hatcher and the Holy Ghost Headquarters church declined to comment.
The suit seeks dissolution of the partnership between Blumenfeld and the church, return of the title to the church and damages in excess of $50,000.
Saved from demolition
The Holy Ghost Headquarters Revival Center saved the opera house from the wrecking ball in 1997 when it bought the property for $250,000.
Under a purchase agreement, the church spent $100,000 to stabilize the building within 30 days.
The suit says the church spent more than $5 million in renovations and maintenance between 1997 and 2013, and was both mortgage-free and debt-free before its dealings with Blumenfeld.
In the summer of 2013, the congregation relocated to Benjamin Franklin High School while the opera house was being renovated.
The suit says that Hatcher believed in Blumenfeld, who had become well-known as a developer of apartment buildings and restaurants on North Broad Street and because he recently had re-acquired the Divine Lorraine Hotel, at Broad Street and Fairmount Avenue.
The suit says that Hatcher met Blumenfeld at the offices of a prominent Philadelphia law firm to sign a partnership agreement without an attorney to look out for the church's interests.
"Blumenfeld intended that Reverend Hatcher and the Church would rely upon his misrepresentations so that Blumenfeld could gain control of the Met," the suit alleges.
It says that Blumenfeld, through a business partner, signed a lease to rent the building to Met215 LLC, managed by Avram Hornick, reportedly to create a downtown version of the Tower Theater. "The Hornik Lease makes no provision for the church's continued use of the Met," the suit says.
On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN