NEWS- Homeless? Prism's flight to Gordonsville stalls

Though the Prism Coffeehouse had planned to follow through on an upcoming move to Gordonsville, it seems those plans may actually fall through.

On Monday, April 17, the Gordonsville property the Prism had placed under contract in December was "back on the market officially," confirms listing agent Stu Rifkin. Even so, Rifkin says, all is not lost for the Prism's plan. "There are still things in the works to make sure the Prism deal happens," he insists.

Rifkin declined to elaborate on why the property– a restaurant and theater space in two adjacent buildings– was relisted for $750,000, as did the building's owner, Hank Browne, reached in Florida.

If the deal falls through, however, it could be bad news for the 40-year-old nonprofit, which must vacate its current Rugby Road quarters, a white house owned by Westminster Presbyterian Church, by the end of the month just after its last scheduled show featuring Jay Ungar and Molly Mason on Saturday, April 22.

Church officials say they did everything they could to keep the Prism in the Rugby Road space. Church spokesman Wally Camp says that for the last eight years the Prism paid the church just $370 a month– for rent, utilities and maintenance– and that Prism artistic director Fred Boyce balked when the church suggested raising that amount to $500 a month in the face of steeply rising utility costs.

"They were offended by the request," says Camp.

Boyce did not return the Hook's call.

In contrast to that sweetheart deal, back in 1990, fledgling theater company Live Arts was paying "in the $3,000-a-month range" for its space on Market Street, says Live Arts co-founder Thane Kerner. And that didn't include utilities.

Despite the Prism's low rent, "They had told us they were leaving at the end of March, announced it publicly," says Camp, adding that he worked out an extension with the Prism that allowed them to stay through April.

Since then, however, Camp says he hasn't heard anything about the Prism's plans.

"As far as communication from them," he says, "as usual, there's none."

Camp is not the first person to be frustrated with Boyce and his partner, Kenyon Hunter, the Prism's unpaid treasurer.

In 2004, a group of former Prism board members alleged that Boyce was operating the Prism outside its bylaws by canceling the annual board elections by volunteers in favor of the board itself appointing board members.

"It's analogous to a dictatorship," said disgusted ex-board member Jim Quarles in a Hook cover story April 1, 2004.

While critics pointed fingers at Boyce and blamed him for the poisonous atmosphere, others defended him and claimed the conflict about board elections had been blown out of proportion.

"Fred is unjustly treated a lot," said then-board chair Joe Ayers in 2004, adding that Boyce and Hunter "do all this work at the Prism. They make that thing happen."

After the move to Gordonsville was announced in January, Ayers told the Hook the Prism had "simply outgrown [the Rugby Road] facility." And Boyce, Ayers maintained, was the reason for that growth and success.

"It's so easy to see people's failings and not see their strengths," said Ayers. "Fred Boyce has convinced me he does know what he's doing."

Where– and whether– Boyce will continue to cultivate artists for the Prism remains to be seen. Like Boyce, Ayers did not return the Hook's call.

As for the Prism's soon-to-be-vacated home on Rugby Road, Camp says there's another tenant planning to move in, one that will encourage "more community involvement," such as open mic nights, jam sessions, and classes.

"I'm looking forward," says Camp, "to working with folks who are communicative and appreciative."

The Prism building, seen here from Rugby Road, is owned by Westminster Presbyterian Church.