Organizations forced out of State Theatre

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- In October, the State Theatre and Community center re-opened under the leadership of Joe Luginbill and his Children's Foundation and was billed as the next community resource hub.

People and organizations using the facility say the doors at the State Theatre are now closed again.

On Thursday, January 16, representatives with local organizations say they got shocking news.

"Joe and I had a conversation that evening stating that he was newly responsible for those utilities and so he was going to have to back out of being a partner in the State Theatre," said Smile House Project Lead Sarah Strunk.

The State Theatre and Community Center re-opened in October, after being sold to Azara Properties. The plan was for the building to be run by Luginbill.

Less than four months after the lights came back on at The State, they've been shut back off.

"I had someone here doing snow removal while Joe was out of town and Xcel Energy was here to shut the building down," said Strunk.

"There was a lot of emotion that we were contending with but when we realized that there was no heat and no power and we really couldn't use the space anymore. We ended up getting an email saying that the lease would be terminated," said Chippewa Valley LGBTQ+ Community Center VP of Operations Daniel Bennett-Hardy.

The LGBTQ+ Community Center had been using the space for offices, a resource center, and a place to hold events.

Now, the group says it's scrambling to find something new.

"Having that physical location that people can stop in if they need to is so important and to lose that, we've lost a lot of what our drive is and that is absolutely the first priority for us," said Bennett-Hardy.

Strunk was using the State Theatre and Community Center as her office, and had planned to create open spaces as well.

She was also the project lead of the Smile House, a home that was supposed to help teenagers who aged out of the foster care system.

The Smile House was also spearheaded by the Luginbill Children's Foundation.

She says the home was being remodeled, but is also now closing.

"This private homeowner that allowed Joe to use his home as the Smile House is now left with a completely demolished home and no resolution to the issue," said Strunk.

Monday, Strunk and Bennett-Hardy were moving everything out of the State Theatre and Community Center, trying to figure out the next steps to take.

"All of these partnerships have completely fallen apart, and nobody is here to answer questions," said Strunk.

The LGBTQ+ center says it's currently looking into potential legal action but is still weighing options.

WEAU has reached out several times to Joe Luginbill and have not heard back.

His foundation's Facebook page and website also appear to be shut down or disabled.

Azara Properties, the owner of the building, sent WEAU this statement:

"The news of the situation at the State Theatre came as a shock to us...We have been trying to contact Joe Luginbill regarding money defaulted by the Luginbill Children's Foundation to Azara Properties. It is the Luginbill Children's Foundation's responsibility as the lessee to pay for all utilities and rent. Azara Properties has reached out to the organizations affected by the foundation's defaults and are trying to resolve the issues so they can continue operating. The theatre will remain open under Azara Properties and we are looking forward to a brighter future for the State Theatre.”


EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Organizations that used the State Theatre and Community Center say they were kicked out.

Representatives with the organizations say on Thursday, all the power at the State Theater and Community Center was shut off and their leases were terminated.

The State Theatre re-opened in October and was being run by Joe Luginbill and his children's foundation.

The Chippewa Valley LGBTQ+ Community Center was one of the tenants of the building, and says it's scrambling to find a new home.

Daniel Bennett-Hardy, Vice President of Opeations says, “I was at work on Thursday and I got a message that the power had gotten turned off at the State and I was like what. It was a complete shock, complete surprise and I was like okay maybe this is a fluke and it will get turned around. Then on Friday I found out the water got turned off and then we realized there was a serious problem”

Azara Properties, the owners of the building, sent us this statement Monday:
"We have been trying to contact Joe Luginbill regarding money defaulted by the Luginbill Children's Foundation to Azara Properties. It is the Luginbill Children's Foundation's responsibility as the lessee to pay for all utilities and rent. Azara Properties has reached out to the organizations affected by the foundation's defaults and are trying to resolve the issues so they can continue operating. The theatre will remain open under Azara Properties and we are looking forward to a brighter future for the State Theatre”

WEAU has reached out to Joe Luginbill multiple times, but have not received a response.