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Kaufman, who renovated and reopened the school's auditorium in 1996 as Union Hall, a 2,000-seat venue, says this new tack will not only lure top talent to Phoenix, but will showcase local artists and complement the curriculum of Metro Arts High School, a charter school that leases space (at an extremely low rate) from Kaufman.
Gaffney says he and Manteau met with Kaufman in February to present their business plan. They reached a deal on March 17. Kaufman will be a stockholder and a board member, according to Gaffney.
"He's a visionary," says Gaffney. "We'll be in good hands."
The administration building on the old campus -- which the alumni group favors for a museum -- will house the executive offices of the business. The theater is undergoing further technical renovations to bring it into the 21st century, Gaffney says, so performances can be recorded for real-time or delayed transmission across the Internet.
Gaffney says the venue will debut May 14 through 20 when shock rocker Alice Cooper tapes a music video there. A grand opening is planned for June 2, with talent to be announced.
Kaufman says the new venture will be something exciting and unique for Arizona. He realizes that the Web Theatre plans with Gaffney and Manteau don't jibe with his application to demolish the buildings the theater business would occupy.
"They would like to be here awhile. I would like them to be here awhile. But I also don't want to suffer a discount on the value of the land because the buildings are here," he says.
Whatever happens with the property, it will likely mark the end of Kaufman's decades-long dedication to downtown investing and development. Kaufman says his musical inclinations were rekindled as he renovated Union Hall. So he's decided to turn his attention to composing music.
Ballads are his specialty, although he once penned a country song called "Tall Paul Johnson" for Johnson's unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign. (It was nixed by the campaign strategists, Kaufman says.) Margaret Mullen says Kaufman wrote "the most incredible love song I've ever heard" for his wedding.
Kaufman is touched that Mullen would say such a thing, but he says he's not sure to which song she's referring: "I've written several romantic songs for my wife."
Mullen says as Kaufman divests his property to transition back into the music scene, she hopes he stays involved in downtown issues.
"Because you need some of the institutional memory, but you also need someone with passion," she says. "And Jim has a lot of passion for downtown."
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