Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Lakewood Theater seats: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Two different theater groups are talking to the owners of the Lakewood Theater, and one is interested in purchasing the historic structure.

“If either one commits, we’re going to try to do one of those deals,” says Craig Kinney, who is part of the of Willingham-Rutledge partnership that owns the southwest strip of the Lakewood shopping center. “It’s much easier, and we think it’s good for Lakewood.”

The current tenant’s lease is up at the end of January, and the partnership, which has owned the theater since 2007, also is talking to a number of restaurants, Kinney says. He previously has said it’s most likely that the theater will be carved up into two or three restaurant/retail spaces.

The theater was constructed in 1938 and has operated as either a movie or stage theater in its seven-plus decades, though it has closed a a couple of times over the years. The interior may change entirely after January, but Kinney has said the owners “would absolutely do nothing” to change the theater’s iconic neon-lit tower or the theater’s exterior.

A City of Dallas landmark designation would protect the theater’s exterior, and several neighbors have expressed a desire to legally preserve it. A Facebook page even is devoted to the topic, with more than 5,300 “likes.” But no one has yet contacted the city to begin the Landmark Commission process or even ask questions about it, says Mark Doty, who works with historic preservation in the city.

Kinney says the owners may be interested in landmark designation status for the theater, but not at this point. “Until I know what my tenant is, I don’t know where I am,” he says. Owner support is important, Doty has said, because the process includes not only ensuring the preservation of the structure but also meeting the owners’ needs.

Federal and state tax credits also are available to incentivize owners of historic structures to restore them, both inside and out, but Kinney says the Lakewood Theater owners wouldn’t pursue them. “If the theater didn’t make it in three years, then we’d be in the soup,” he says. The group interested in purchasing the theater might go that route, he says, but “I don’t think we would do it ourselves because we’re leasing it.”

Though the owners are hoping to make a deal with a theater group, “if the restaurants can convey much higher rent than the theater,” Kinney says, that may trump a theater deal. Kinney isn’t sure when a new lease, or leases, will be signed.

“From our standpoint, the sooner the better,” he says.

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