A well-placed source tells WWL-TV a deal is in the works to sell Tipitina’s, perhaps the most venerable music venue in a city renowned for live music.
The name of the potential buyers has not been disclosed and it’s unclear what their plans for the club would be.
The negotiations come as Tipitina’s owner of 22 years, Roland Von Kurnatowski, faces a raft of lawsuits claiming he bilked investors and has skipped out on debts totaling at least $2.8 million.
Asked if he was in financial trouble and if he was selling Tipitina’s, Von Kurnatowski told WWL-TV: “My overall financial picture is good. Whether it’s time to sell Tipitina’s at this time is an open question.”
Several big-name acts that played Tipitina’s and another venue owned by Von Kurnatowski at the time, the Orpheum Theater, had their performance fee checks bounce earlier this year, even after their shows sold out, according to multiple sources close to the musicians.
Two lawsuits filed against Von Kurnatowski in July and October allege he bounced checks used to pay debts to investors. Another suit filed by Hancock Whitney Bank alleges Von Kurnatowski has defaulted on a $168,000 loan. A real estate company owned by Von Kurnatowski’s sister filed another lawsuit against him last week alleging he owes nearly $1 million. And a lawsuit filed by Von Kurnatowski’s business partner Antone Lynch alleges Von Kurnatowski set up a “Ponzi scheme” to bilk him and other investors in a bond fund.
The lawsuits were first reported Thursday by The New Orleans Advocate.
Supporters of Tipitina’s wondered this year if Von Kurnatowski had spread himself too thin after purchasing an interest in the Orpheum and starting to develop a new music venue and water park at Lakeshore Landing on Lake Pontchartrain. Von Kurnatowski has since sold his half of the Orpheum to his former partner, Dr. Eric George.
Von Kurnatowski has said he didn’t even know the cultural significance of the club until after he bought it. But since then, he has been dedicated to its preservation, including the creation of a nonprofit Tipitina’s Foundation.
If he sells the club, the foundation owned by Von Kurnatowski and his wife would likely not be able to continue using the Tipitina’s name.