The drama at the Prince Music Theater in Center City is fast reaching a climax.

Common Pleas Court Judge Idee C. Fox on Tuesday denied a petition by the Prince's operators to prevent it from going on the auction block. The ruling initially cleared the way for TD Bank, holder of the Prince's mortgages, to put the Chestnut Street theater up for sheriff's sale on July 13.

But two hours later, the theater says, it received a temporary reprieve. Because TD Bank failed to advertise the property, the Sheriff's Office postponed the sale, according to Marjorie Samoff, the Prince's producing director.

"Rules of civil procedure require that it be listed three times before it's sold," Samoff said. "The earliest possible sale date now would be in October."

Sheriff's Office officials did not return phone calls Tuesday.

At one point in May 2009, the building was listed for sheriff's sale, but was removed as negotiations with the bank continued. According to Samoff, a judge blocked an attempt to sell the theater in October.

Last week, TD Bank filed an emergency motion to win permission to sell the 446-seat theater to commercial bidders. The nonprofit - which has become a film venue for the summer, running Toy Story 3 to pay the bills - owes about $4.83 million in long-term loans to the bank.

Local theatergoers began to hear rumors of the Prince's troubled finances in 2008, when it announced and then virtually abandoned a full producing season.

Samoff said the turbulence began when theater officials discovered a bookkeeper forging checks. In response, the mortgage holder, then Commerce Bank, took control of daily operations and froze the theater's accounts.

Already under pressure from the rough economy, the theater in April 2008 negotiated with Commerce to reduce its $43,000 monthly mortgage payments to $27,000.

The next month, TD Bank bought Commerce and told Samoff that the theater would have to pay the full $43,000 or be foreclosed on.

On Christmas Eve 2008, TD Bank secured a judgment against the Prince. "It was equivalent to putting us in debtor's prison," Samoff said. "No foundation could fund us." On New Year's Eve, the bank sent an appraiser to look over the building, to prepare it for sale for use as condos and shops.

Intensive negotiations followed, Samoff said. The theater struck a deal with the bank in mediation with a retired federal judge in April 2009. The bank's home office in Toronto did not accept the settlement, Samoff said.

A spokeswoman for TD Bank said that it, and before it Commerce Bank, had long supported the Prince.

"We are hopeful the situation can be resolved," said Rebecca S. Acevedo. "We have been working through the courts to address this issue and cannot comment further, as these matters are in litigation."

Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 215-854-2443 or woods@phillynews.com

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