With new owner, Prince Theater continues reign in Center City

 The Philadelphia Film Society has purchased the Prince Theater with plans to screen films and rent out the space to performance companies. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Philadelphia Film Society has purchased the Prince Theater with plans to screen films and rent out the space to performance companies. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A longtime renter has stepped up to buy the troubled Prince Theater in Center City Philadelphia. The 450-seat venue on Chestnut Street at Broad is now owned by the Philadelphia Film Society.

PFS puts on the annual International Film Festival, and has been using the Prince Theater at Chestnut and Broad streets for its major events, including opening and closing night screenings.

“It’s the centerpiece of the festival, which is the centerpiece of the society’s programming,” said executive director J. Andrew Greenblatt.

PFS will use the theater for film screenings and cinema-related events, as well as rent it to other performance groups, such as the Curtis Institute, which for decades has used the Prince for opera productions.

“There is no theater in the city this size, with this equipment, everything we need,” said Greenblatt. “It’s the only venue with both 35 and digital — outside of the Roxy and I believe the International House. Add to that the stage, and Dolby surround — there’s not place that versatile.”

It is the second theater operated by PFS. Last year the society entered into a long-term lease on the Roxy Theater in Rittenhouse Square. The much smaller theaters at the Roxy (two theaters, about 80 seats each) will be used for more esoteric art house films, while the Prince will be used for more popular fare.

Greenblatt said he is in a better position to maintain the theater than his predecessors — the American Music Theater Festival, which had owned the theater before declaring bankruptcy, and then a management group headed by the now-deceased millionaire meatpacker Herb Lotman.

Due to an $8 million grant from the Wyncote Foundation — the full cost of the theater — Greenblatt has no debt and no rent.

“The reason the American Music Theater Festival couldn’t make it work was the debt. It was crushing. As we all know, debt crushes nonprofits all the time. We don’t have debt,” said Greenblatt. “From talking with the Lotman group, it had high rent. Not high for the location, but high for a nonprofit. They didn’t have a fully fledged development department, only Herb. We don’t have that here.”

Greenblatt said he will hire five or six additional employees to manage the theater and performance rentals (PFS has a regular staff of seven, plus a manager of the Roxy). The first performances will be next week, a production of “The Last Jimmy,” a play by Dice Raw. Greenblatt hopes to start film screenings in May.

Disclosure: The Wyncote Foundation supports WHYY.

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