WINTER HAVEN – Pending permission from Judge Catherine Combee, the Ritz Theatre in downtown Winter Haven will be purchased by Winter Haven residents Jessie Skubna and Robbie Loftus, owners of two nearby downtown bars.
The Ritz is currently being run as a non-profit. Over the past year or so, several hundred local leaders expressed concern over how the theater has been run. Some of those with concerns filed criminal complaints with State Attorney Brian Haas. State Attorney Haas concluded that there was not enough evidence to make any arrests, but he had enough concerns to refer the case to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to determine if there was any civil wrongdoing.
Attorney General Bondi has since filed legal action seeking a third party to take over the historic theater citing multiple civil allegations of wrongdoing.
Judge Combee, who was assigned to the case, has heard legal arguments from both sides about the allegations several times already. She has yet to make a determination on whether the allegations are true or not and whether the property can be sold to a private investor.
After legal action was filed by the attorney general, the Ritz board listed the property for sale for $1.65M.
Lawyers representing the attorney general appear to be opposed to the sale, preferring a third party to take over the theater and run as a non profit, Skubna said. The office of the attorney general has previously stated they want former Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Gernert to take over the theater. Gernert testified in court Aug. 22, Skubna said.
There are additional court hearings next week. Skubna and Loftus said they are hoping to have a decision from Judge Combee by the end of next week.
Neither wanted to disclose how much the property was purchased for. Both said they are under contract for sale and if Judge Combee does not prevent the private sale, they are hoping to be in ownership by October. Skubna and Loftus said they want to manage the theater as a for profit business that would bring many concerts to the downtown area.
More information will be published about this in print Wednesday, Aug. 30.