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Wilma at risk

Blakeslee’s baby facing an uncertain future


It’s looking like a rough end to a long year for the Wilma.

Last month former amateur boxer Nate Riley sued Missoula’s downtown theater over injuries he sustained in a bout there in 2003. Now another lawsuit filed in October has surfaced, this one related to the death of a woman who died when she fell off the roof of the building in 2002.

In 1994, Tracy Blakeslee—a Missoula native who lives and works in Portland, Ore.—purchased the Wilma building and theater intending to restore and preserve the downtown landmark. Now his business is facing two major lawsuits, the possible loss of one of its biggest revenue-generating events, and a potential sale in the coming year.

Over the course of a decade, Blakeslee—crowned “Portland’s premier pornographer” and “the man who brought smut out of the dark ages” by Portland’s Willamette Week (he made his fortune with a chain of Fantasy for Adults Only video stores in Washington and Montana)—sank millions of dollars, by his own account, into renovating the deteriorated building.

Blakeslee’s renovations included the installation of a new screen and sound system in the Wilma’s main theater. He also added a new sprinkler system, replaced the boiler, renovated the offices and apartments, and created a high-end (albeit short-lived) restaurant and two cocktail lounges: the Red Light Bar and the Green Room.

Eight years and millions later, Blakeslee put the Wilma up for sale in 2002.

Two months after Blakeslee announced the Wilma was for sale, 40-year-old Paula Andrea Adorno was found dead on a concrete sidewalk on the south side of the building. Police said the Missoula-area woman fell to her death after somehow gaining access to the roof, and authorities ruled the death an accident. Three years after her death, Robert Adorno is now suing the Wilma and a host of construction contractors over his sister’s death, seeking compensatory and punitive damages plus interest and costs.

The Adorno lawsuit is the first of two major liability lawsuits filed against the Wilma this year.

Nate Riley, an amateur boxer severely injured in a March, 2003, match at the Wilma, filed a lawsuit in November against Club Boxing owner Bob LeCoure, along with the owners of the Wilma building, the Wilma Amusement Company and the state Department of Labor and Industry Board of Athletics. Riley and his mother, Kathy Riley, allege that the defendants were negligent in not having an ambulance and licensed physician on hand during the fight, and failed to provide adequate protective equipment. Riley suffered head injuries and sustained brain damage from the fight and is seeking punitive and compensatory damages.

The Adorno lawsuit alleges that Paula Adorno was able to gain access to the roof of the Wilma because a door to the roof was propped open and an alarm had been disabled.

Though the lawsuit was filed Oct. 26 in Missoula District Court, Adorno’s attorney has yet to serve the named defendants. Lawyers for both sides say they won’t comment on the suit until it has been served. Under Montana law, the plaintiff has three years to do so.

Meanwhile, Blakeslee is still looking for a buyer for the Wilma. His asking price: $4.25 million.

In 2002, Blakeslee told the Missoulian he wanted to sell the Wilma because profitability was difficult to maintain.

“It didn’t really turn out the way I hoped it would,” Blakeslee told the paper. “I wanted a fabulous restaurant and gorgeous apartments, but that’s not what happened.”

The restaurant, Marianne’s at the Wilma, closed in early 2002 following a breach of contract lawsuit filed by the restaurant’s namesake, Marianne Forrest. The suit was settled out of court, and details of the agreement were not disclosed.

Now the Wilma is on the verge of losing one of its best revenue-generators, Club Boxing. In the 2002 interview, Blakeslee said the Wilma was most financially successful as a forum for Club Boxing, but last month LeCoure, Club Boxing’s owner, canceled all December bouts at the venue citing dwindling attendance. He said Club Boxing would return in January for a final attempt at a successful season.

“Financially we’ve just lost our fan base there for some reason,” LeCoure told the Independent from his Butte office earlier this month. “This is our fifth year, and you know, we just lost our appeal.”

Bill Emerson, the Wilma’s events manager, confirmed that recent Wednesday night bouts haven’t drawn the crowds they once did. If those crowds don’t return in January, Club Boxing in Missoula is over, LeCoure said.

Despite the lawsuits and the potential loss of what was once the Wilma’s most profitable enterprise, the Wilma remains financially stable, says Dan Cederberg, Blakeslee’s Missoula attorney.

“When he [Blakeslee] purchased it, he was very interested in being sure that it didn’t deteriorate any further,” Cederberg says of Blakeslee’s substantial investments in the Wilma.

According to Bill McQuirk, the agent listing the Wilma, the building is now a prime piece of Missoula real estate, thanks to Blakeslee’s improvements. McQuirk says the Wilma has twice almost been sold to out-of-state buyers, but the deals fell through on the buyers’ ends before they could be closed.

McQuirk was scheduled to show the Wilma to another potential buyer—an unnamed “movie actor” from Los Angeles—on Tuesday. McQuirk says there’s been tremendous interest in the Wilma lately, and that the lawsuits won’t affect a possible sale.

“In situations like these the buyer is protected,” says McQuirk. “Any time you get into a deal this size the attorneys handle everything. In the business world there are a lot of lawsuits against businesses when they sell.”

Emerson, the theater’s manager, says the lawsuits won’t affect his event planning, and that he’s carrying on business as usual.

“Perhaps if people are interested in how the Wilma is doing they should come to our events and support us,” he says.

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