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Businessman Pulls Out of Arts Plaza Lease Deal


A last-minute decision by wealthy businessman Charles Probst to pull out of a negotiated lease with Thousand Oaks for a large office in the new Civic Arts Plaza has left the city in the lurch, city officials said Tuesday.

Several other prospective tenants were passed over in favor of Probst's offer to lease 5,592 square feet of prime office space from the city for $120,780 a year, City Atty. Mark Sellers said.

Probst's attorney, Paul Stansen, said the North Ranch resident--who contributed $2 million to the Civic Arts Plaza late last year--was backing out of the five-year lease, just hours before it would have been finalized.

"There has been a decision to revoke the lease proposal," Stansen said.

He declined to comment on whether Probst might continue with his plans to establish offices for his charitable arts foundation elsewhere in the city.

Sellers said he first found out about Probst's decision when he listened to a voice-mail message left Monday by Probst's attorney, while city offices were closed in observance of Martin Luther King Day. On Tuesday--the day City Council members were to vote on the lease--Sellers said he received a letter confirming the decision.

"Their reasons really haven't been explained," Sellers said. "But in essence they are revoking the prior offer, which they can do because the council hasn't given final approval to the lease."

City officials who had been counting on Probst to take over the largest part of nearly 10,000 square feet of unfinished office space in the plaza were dismayed by Probst's change of heart.

"It is disappointing to say the least," Councilman Andy Fox said. "We would have had the whole area leased out. This changes that considerably now, so it's unfortunate."

Although Probst never publicly revealed his plans for the office space, Stansen had said that he was considering offering subleasing agreements to various nonprofit art groups in the Conejo Valley.

Housing arts organizations next door to the Performing Arts Center was particularly appealing, said Mayor Jaime Zukowski.

"It had a great deal of merit," Zukowski said. "It seemed a very fitting and positive use for the location."

The city will resume the search for prospective tenants immediately, Sellers said, and will contact some of the private corporations--unidentified to date--that had earlier expressed interest in leasing space at the Civic Arts Plaza.

Councilwoman Judy Lazar expressed fear that some of those tenants may have lost interest.

"Unfortunately, there were a couple of other possibilities for tenants that were interested at the time, but I doubt they are still interested," Lazar said. "It doesn't look like the happiest situation."

The city had delayed finishing the office space until it had enough tenants to fill the second-floor suite. Although Probst had sought to lease more than half the available space, the city has signed a two-year lease with Caltrans for a 2,000-square-foot suite. And at Tuesday's meeting, council members gave tentative approval to a four-year lease of 2,000 square feet in office space for county Supervisor Frank Schillo.

Sellers said the city will go ahead and finish the office spaces for Schillo and Caltrans despite the loss of Probst. He said those offices should still be ready by the projected date of May or June.

"We would like to do all the spaces at once," Sellers said. "But we can't wait around any longer."

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