Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fox 'Phantom' faces Dec. 1 deadline to sign new contract or leave theatre

Posted By on Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 6:43 PM

  • Joeff Davis
The Fox Theatre expected to hear today whether Joe Patten, the 83-year-old longtime resident of the Midtown venue, would sign a controversial new occupancy agreement and remain in the spacious walk-up apartment he calls home. But the so-called "Phantom of the Fox," the man who decades ago helped save the historic building from the wrecking ball, says the proposed contract is unfair and hasn't signaled he's ready to agree to its terms.

The dispute over whether the 31-year resident should be forced to sign a new lease and remain in the living space he converted with more than $50,000 of his own cash continues. A Facebook group has rallied 8,000 fans and a standalone website, replete with documents related to the controversy, has been launched. On Monday, supporters protested the Pixies show to raise awareness about Patten's tussle with Atlanta Landmarks Inc., the nonprofit board that operates the theatre and which he helped establish.

Joe Patten
  • Joeff Davis
  • Joe Patten
Supporters say the new occupancy agreement, which the board presented to Patten shortly after he returned from the hospital, is disrespectful.

According to the proposed contract, Patten has to ask for the theatre's permission if he wants to host visitors. Fox employees, many of whom have become friendly and familiar with the color character, aren't permitted to visit. It also stipulates that Patten, who recently suffered a stroke, must check in to a medical facility to receive care rather than hire at-home nursing assistance.

"It's designed for Joe to fail," says Daniel Graham, a Patten family friend and the lead organizer behind Monday night's protest. "He can’t have a Thanksgiving party at his house. My stepfather" — Bob Foreman, a Atlanta Landmarks inc. boardmember who helped Patten save the Fox and voted against modifying the lease — "would have to get permission to visit him. He's not allowed to have visiting nurse. So if they’re concerned about his health like they say they are, and say that he can’t have a visiting nurse, it doesn’t make sense."

Fox officials admitted they bungled in the initial handling of the matter, which they say has been discussed with Patten over the years. But they say the new occupancy agreement is necessary to accommodate Patten. The existing lease also required him to provide security for the venue and never contemplated such issues as aging and assisted living.

Delaney says the theatre wants Patten to stay at the Fox, provided he sign the new agreement. If he doesn't do so before Dec. 1 he'll be evicted.

"The new occupancy agreement continues to allow [Patten] to live at the Fox rent free, and the Fox will continue to pay the majority of his utilities as we have for the last 31 years," the statement says. "We look forward to hearing from [Patten and his advisers] so Joe can continue to live at the Fox for as long as he is able."

Patten told CL on Tuesday that four different apartment or condominium complexes have offered him a place to live. He's given serious thought to converting a building he owns on the Westside where he stores his furniture. Friends in Lakeland, Fla., have urged him to return.

But he says he loves Atlanta and the walk-up apartment he calls home. Ask him why he loves the city, and he'll offer some reasons — location, familiarity, etc. — but his reasons always lead back to the historic Midtown theatre he helped save from the wrecking ball and which, for the time being, he still calls home.

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