The future of the Prince Music Theater in Center City, currently in a bankruptcy reorganization, is showing a glimmer of light. A consortium of five buyers has paid off the Prince's contested mortgage and on Thursday became the leading contender in a bid for ownership.

The buyers include current and past board members of the American Music Theater Festival (AMTF), which operates the Prince. They paid a negotiated $3.25 million Wednesday afternoon to TD Bank, which held the mortgage and had more than $6 million in claims against it.

The consortium comprises general partners Ronald Caplan and Ira Lubert, and three silent partners without voting rights: AMTF board chairman Ronald Kaiserman, board member Karen Lotman, and former board chairman Howard Morgan.

In an auction Thursday ordered by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Magdeline D. Coleman, the debtors chose their bid of $4.5 million as most practical for the theater's future. Like all major decisions on the Prince's future, the ownership is ultimately up to Coleman, who is expected to rule on a reorganization plan in September.

Also bidding $4.5 million Thursday for the theater was the Union League of Philadelphia, whose property borders the theater. The club, like the consortium, pledged to keep the American Music Theater Festival as a tenant, although that relationship was not as clearly drawn as the consortium's. If the consortium for any reason fails to acquire the Prince, the Union League would be the lead bidder.

A third bidder, DeMedici Corp. III, represented the Performing Arts Charter School with a bid of $4 million. The auction at the law offices of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller was run by Matthew A. Hamermesh, representing the theater.

"We had two friendly bidders," said Kaiserman, the board chairman, after the auction, "and whoever ends up owning the building, both are committed to the long-term survival of the Prince Music Theater."

Marjorie Samoff, the organization's producing director and founder, said the theater would continue to honor all agreements with renters, which include performing arts organizations that have kept the building busy in the years since the Prince stopped producing shows.