Buckner's business partner speaks out about failed gallery

Friday, April 6, 2012

Karen Eustis never intended to say anything publicly about why her business relationship with John Buckner failed. But when the New Orleans artist heard that someone suggested she left Buckner in the lurch, she felt she couldn't stay quiet.

"I was trying not to cause any difficulty," Eustis said Thursday. "But I felt like my name was being wronged and my character is very important to me. To have someone say that was so false, I couldn't hold back anymore."

Eustis said she recently dissolved the arrangement for Eustis Studio, which Buckner managed since it opened in late August, after Buckner diverted his attentions to a new restaurant, Razing Cain, which she felt pushed her business to the back burner. Buckner would be unable to devote enough time to the fledging art gallery to make it successful. So she ended the relationship and had all of her art -- what she called her "life's work" -- returned to her.

Now, Eustis said, she's lost at least $100,000 in the investment and says Buckner bounced several checks made out to her and still owes her an amount of money that she declined to pinpoint.

It also has left her questioning Buckner's financial acumen as well as with doubts about whether he'll be able to pull off any of the other Cape Girardeau projects, such as the renovation of the Esquire Theater on Broadway -- which she stressed she was not a financial participant in. Eustis said the falling out with Buckner, who she considered family, has left a bad taste in her mouth and that she is not on speaking terms with him.

Her relationship with Buckner, she said, is ruined.

"What really bothered me is that I don't want other people to move ahead with things with John that could turn out to not be what they're supposed to be," she said. " ... While I'm having difficulty with this, I think in order to preserve other people from getting into a situation that would be harmful to them, I felt a moral obligation."

For his part, Buckner said Thursday he agrees with some of what Eustis had to say. She did not leave him "hanging," as a member of a local visual arts co-op told the Southeast Missourian on Tuesday, Buckner said.

"She's a wonderful woman," Buckner said. "I love her to death. I have no hard feelings toward her at all."

He also says Eustis is correct in that opening Razing Cain -- which opened and closed in three weeks -- was draining too much of his time and that it was a "huge" mistake.

"I don't know why I opened that damned restaurant, if you want to know the truth," he said. "I don't know why I did it."

But he pointed out that he was with Eustis for two years, starting in New Orleans, and he hasn't made any money either. And while she invested the bulk of the cash, he said he invested all of his time until the restaurant debacle.

When he was asked about the bad checks written to Eustis, he would only say there were disagreements with Eustis and that he had invested some of his money near the end, including paying all of the accounting fees.

And, Buckner said, he's still committed to Cape Girardeau, specifically his new Broadway Gallery on Independence Street. The possibility of renovating the Esquire Theater still remains, though his comments suggest it is far less than a done deal. When he made the announcement in October, he said he intended to convert the dilapidated theater into a new independent art house and named a price tag of about $2.4 million.

On Thursday Buckner said he now thinks he could do the work for far less, perhaps as little as $400,000. But he still hasn't bought the building at 824 Broadway, saying there is still one financial issue he has with owner Phil Brinson before he can move forward.

Tax lien exemption

Until recently, he said, several tax liens were keeping him from buying the building. But a review of the liens at the recorder of deeds office show that the liens applied to the building have been granted an exemption by the state Department of Revenue. That means Brinson can legally sell the property and Brinson would still owe the debt and it would not be transferred to Buckner. Without such an exemption, property cannot be legally sold.

Brinson declined to comment Thursday.

Buckner acknowledged the liens were not an issue any longer and would not specify what the remaining issue with Brinson is. Buckner said he intends to meet today with people he would not name to decide what projects he wants to pursue. He said the building would cost him a total of $17,000, including closing costs, and he's already paid Buckner $5,000 in earnest money. Buckner said he had the building appraised, which came in at $34,000.

When asked about having a business plan or seeking help from economic development officials, Buckner admitted he doesn't have a lot of business savvy.

"The thing about me, and I'll tell you, I'm not a business person," Buckner said. "My accountant thinks I'm the hottest mess alive and I'll agree with him. I don't do any of it. I run and they clean up the mess."

Another factor, he said he is now considering, is whether an independent film house is economically feasible. He said he began having doubts after some friends from St. Louis suggested it may not make economic sense. While he has met with economic development people locally, Buckner said he wants to do so again.

"I don't want to open a business unless it can make money," Buckner said. "When I was approached by [Old Town Cape executive director] Marla Mills, we were all excited about it and then we're suddenly approaching Phil about the cost of the building. One thing led to another."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

824 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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