Lakewood Theater owners: It’s not personal — it’s business

14.12.16-ED-Lakewood-Theater-DFulgencio-0023If it weren’t for strong neighborhood opinion that the Lakewood Theater should remain a theater, the historic 1938 structure, unprotected by any kind of landmark designation, would have been divided up into several restaurant spaces months ago. The theater has been vacant since January, and co-owner Craig Kinney says it’s time to move on.

“We’ve been spinning our wheels for months,” Kinney says. “We have to start getting the theater ready for another tenant.”

Kinney and Bill Willingham bought the theater and the rest of the southwest strip of Lakewood Shopping Center in 2007. Since that purchase, they have replaced Matt’s with Mi Cocina, and Centennial Liquor closed its store, replaced by Frost Bank. Starbucks, an international company worth billions, weathered the rent hike just fine and has even been remodeled. The longtime locals, however, couldn’t compete in the new market, and that includes the theater, which hosted its last live show in January. (Kinney says the theater management was given the option of renewing a 5-year lease with a slight rent increase but chose to leave.)

Over the years, the theater has morphed from a neighborhood movie house to a dollar show pioneer to a performance venue, but has always operated as a theater. Kinney and Willingham have been in talks with potential theater tenants for months — Alamo Drafthouse most publicly — but never because of a financial incentive. They pursued theater uses “just to please the community,” Kinney says, and “there’s a limit to that.”

“Obviously economics are important,” Kinney says. The deal with Alamo would have been “two-thirds of the rent we could get from restaurants,” he says, “We’d be short a six figure number every year.” The owners were willing to take that discount, he says, but Alamo was insistent on a long-term guarantee of extra parking as part of the deal, and Kinney says he hasn’t been able to negotiate that with any nearby property owners.

Alamo DFW COO Bill DiGaetano says Alamo would take the property as-is, no extra parking necessary, for lower rent, but Kinney says that offer is equal to maybe “25 percent of what we could lease the space out to restaurants for. It’s way too low.”

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If Alamo isn’t willing pay what the owners are asking, could anyone? The other known theater group the owners have talked to is Aviation Cinemas, which operates the historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff. That deal would combine the theater with a restaurant, Kinney says, and wouldn’t require more parking. However, “we’re not close to having a deal at this point,” he says.

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As it is, the theater’s seats are spread out among neighborhood homes or in the landfill at this point, and contractors are inside the building doing asbestos abatement. Though the Dallas Landmark Commission has put a hold on any city permits that would alter or demolish the site, “the owner has followed the appropriate process for asbestos abatement through the Texas Department of State Health Services,” says city spokeswoman Sana Syed, and “the property is not undergoing any construction that would require a building permit.”

Preservation Dallas and a cohort of neighborhood associations have pressed the owners to pursue tax credits available to historic properties. Kinney says he met with them twice and called the city, but the conversations haven’t led anywhere.

“They haven’t given us anything specific, just generalities,” Kinney says. “The tax credits for keeping it a theater only work if we have a tenant, and at this point we don’t, so it doesn’t make sense to spend the time examining all those possibilities.”

Even if the Landmark Commission could achieve historic designation over the owners’ protest, it would protect only the theater’s exterior. Kinney says “the murals and sculptures are not going to be touched at this point,” and has promised that the owners won’t remove the iconic neon theater tower. The reason the tower stays, however, is because “it’s a great asset to us,” Kinney has said.

Kinney and Willingham have never purported that they bought the theater because of its historical qualities or because they love old theaters; they bought it to turn a profit. Kinney has maintained since last November that keeping the Lakewood Theater a theater would be “a long shot” and “unlikely.” He hasn’t talked to any restaurant tenants in 2015, but there were plenty interested last fall, he says.

“We’ve spent lots and lots of time trying to get a theater as a tenant,” Kinney says, and though community pressure has impacted the owners for a few months, its expiration date seems imminent.

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  • Woodrow Wildcat

    Uh, kinda like it worked for 70 years…

  • Spud

    Actually, exactly the same thing. Well stated, LC.

  • Spud

    You are exactly right, Byron.

  • Spud

    I will. And so will everyone else, except the loud minority of idiots who don’t understand property rights, economics and minding your own business.

  • Spud

    It hasn’t been a theater for a decade or more. It’s been a venue for a fluffly chick strip show and gay bingo.

  • Spud

    There is always a need for more restaurants. WTF is a “common meeting place”? If you want to meet with your friends, invite them to your house. I can’t wait to try the new restaurants. The owners have been great. Love Mi Cocina. And we still have Matt’s in the neighborhood. Life is good.

  • JW64

    How is it going to work as a theater with the parking situation?

  • JW64

    What, and miss all the drama? The three biggest drama/comedies are The Bachelor(ette), DWTS, and Lakewood Real Estate Teeth Gnashing.

  • Woodrow Wildcat

    Our popular schools are bursting at the seams – that’s why we are getting additions at Stonewall and Lakewood through the “Bridge Plan” and have two 22 – 24 classroom wings in the upcoming bond program for Long and Woodrow. While the Lakewood has been the setting for school activities, special events and reunions for 77 years, I think most would rather keep it as a theater.

  • Woodrow Wildcat

    Why don’t you go elsewhere? It sounds as if you are just passing through..

  • Woodrow Wildcat

    I wouldn’t know as I don’t go there! 😀

  • JW64

    “Selfish motives” like trying to tell someone else what to do with property they own? I hope you’re seeking public input for any changes you might make to your property. For that matter, you’d better let Dallas at large take a look before you even mow your grass or trim your hedges- it might not fit with the historical legacy of the property.

  • JW64

    Really? Like how “nobody” in Lakewood was in favor of the Chipotle? You know, the one that’s so busy you can’t get into it at lunchtime?

  • JW64

    Lakewood, where nobody is happy with how someone else is spending money, but nobody can be bothered to do more than complain.

  • JW64

    If they announced they were going to renovate Lakewood Theatre and turn it into a school, half of Lakewood would complain that “we have enough schools, what we need is ___________.”

  • JW64

    This is a great idea. And NIMBY Lakewood will fight that too.

  • Karrison Stewart Nichols

    How about an under ground parking lot somewhere?

  • Jason M. Fitzmaurice

    Currently he’s explaining why he won’t even attend the landmark committee meeting. Unbelievably disappointed.

  • Pecos_Drifter

    A brothel would bring in a lot of tax revenue plus a great place for local government officials to hang out and keep a eye on crime……and maybe a little role playing…….


    Some of us have principles and one of those is loyalty. That’s why we have great schools while other areas don’t.


    That’s the Dixie-House a.k.a. Dixie-Lakewood, owned by Black-Eyed Pea but not the same – opened circa 1979.

  • Lee Chevalier

    Meaning Bishop Arts type of success. The murals are a selling point.

  • Lee Chevalier

    Lol be careful what you wish for.

  • Lee Chevalier

    Lol no, not that one. The Lakewood BEP is in an original building with a clock. After the iconic drugstore burned across the street (now a poor turreted reproduction) it’s clock was the next most recognizable. The landlord took the hands off to resurface the building and was accused of trashing the (nonfunctioning) clock. It’s fine. Lotsa hoopla though by non-property owners.

  • Jean Crawford

    Lakewood does not need MORE RESTAURANTS. We already have too many as it is. What we need is a place that can be useful to the community as a common meeting place. And the Balcony Club is one of the few local venues who supports local talent. We need to show up to the meeting on September 8th down town and make our voices HEARD!

  • Woodrow Wildcat

    It’s empty because Alamo or Texas Theater won’t pay him “enough” money.

  • Woodrow Wildcat


  • Joe

    My read on it is that Preservation Dallas and Landmark can’t impact the interior or use. They’re already keeping the exterior intact, so it looks like you’re getting restaurants whether you want them or not. Churn will take care of the market failures so it looks like the activists were a day late and dollars didn’t matter.

  • Joe

    Translation: a handful of activists who fall on the tails of the normal distribution of consumer behavior will “avoid any new business…” You have to realize that you’re not talking the general public here. Again: good lesson in micro economics.

  • Joe

    To Scott’s comment “…the community will absolutely NOT support any business…” I’d like to correct you: “some in the community…” would likely be more accurate. Most of us buy based on customer value, not on philosophy. So when (as Jay pointed out) you sabotage your own cause, you risk losing everything. You may boycott the new restaurateurs, but that just means there’s room for those of us who buy based on what 90% of other consumers want. Hopefully you’ve learned a valuable lesson in micro-economics.

  • Byron

    It’s a technical term. LOL

  • Byron

    AGREE ! ! ! Thanks Jay.

    But shame on you for using LOGIC. It will never work. LOL

  • Jeff Sauers

    And Phillip Kingston is doing what? Yea that’s what I thought, crickets!

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  • thebrokencarnage

    So you’ve got so much pride and admiration that you didn’t patronize a theatre enough to keep it in business?

  • Woodrow Wildcat

    “Leave the tower thing”?

  • Steve Vance

    L O S I N G

  • Jay Cutcher

    It’s time for all you people who fought the parking lot a few years ago to finally admit that loosing the theater is your fault. Now all of you want the parking lot, but that ship has sailed. It’s somewhat humorous to see people who have no idea about commercial real estate tell the experts how to run their business when it’s you non-experts who are the ones that are to blame for loosing the theater. If you non-experts had listened to the experts, there would already be a parking lot and Alamo would already be in operation.

  • Byron

    I live in the neighborhood within walking distance. I would love to see some new restaurants or bars. Leave the tower thing because it looks cool, other that that, do something productive with the building interior. It is the fault of the “community” that the parking spaces weren’t built (parking garage or other means). The “Community” didn’t put butts in the seats when it was a theatre. The “Community” probably needs to move to a retirement home where things never change and let people who support progress move in to the neighborhood.

  • Brandon

    Yeah because the Lakewood community did such a great job of supporting the previous tenants who had a performance or artistic component.. haha

  • MiMi

    You really need to quit while you are ahead. Speak for yourself or just shut up.
    Depending on what is done to the building and who rents it, is what will make my mind up.
    I understand and value the theater. How dare you generalize.
    SMH in disgust.

  • Scott

    Correction: The people in the neighborhood who have principles and integrity will avoid any new business that does not honor the legacy of that building. Those who don’t understand the value of historically significant architecture will do what they always do, make ignorant choices based on superficial reasoning and selfish motives.

  • Erika Huddleston

    Oh, wow, I didn’t know that. Well, I wonder if they’ve run the numbers on restoring it and renting it as a high-end party place. For weddings and parties planned by Todd Events, etc. Dallas has so few historic venues. Fair Park Hall of State type events.

  • Peter Doll

    Last time I was there they literally had signs in the windows with a number to call to rent it out. I think we have tried that one already.

  • Lee Chevalier

    Completely disagree. Lakewood has done NOTHING concrete, including their councilpersons over the years, to get a tenant or engage former owners. This is the Blackeyed Pea Syndrome wherein the community concerned itself with a clock. Dallas, oddly, is no longer centered in Lakewood; a good restaurant frankly is missing now. Nobodg is going to boycott business. Stop showboating, go find desgnations and parking.

  • Scott

    I hope the owners know that the community will absolutely NOT support any business that compromises the architectural or functional use of that property. It has been a source of Lakewood pride and admiration for years. That building is a symbol and should be used and preserved as such. Be for-warned: Any restaurant that opens there that does not have a performance or artistic component is destined to FAIL.

  • Bruce Levy

    My major concern is for the historic murals. If would be an utter disgrace to destroyed them (partially or in their entirety). I can only hope that when Mr. Kinney rents these reconfigured spaces out to restaurants or boutiques, they are not national or even local chains. Think Bishop Arts, not North Dallas, please!

  • Brandon

    The reason the tower stays, however, is because “it’s a great asset to us,” Kinney has said, not because of its historical qualities or neighbors’ attachment.

    Seems like you are putting words in his mouth and mischaracterizing his comment…

  • Ox-Bow

    The developers knew, or should have known, exactly what they were buying in 2007. Why they would buy such a place without understanding its historical value is their own fault. I hope it is a long arduous permit process for them.

  • mdmost

    No one should be shocked by this. I doubt the owners are really trying that hard to get a theater in there. They’ll make more money on restaurants and outsource the parking woes to a valet company. Greenville dining 2.0. Then those restaurants will eventually fail since people from outside the area don’t want to bother with the hassle of trying to find parking to eat at a restaurant they can probably get to a lot easier elsewhere. I’m just glad Preservation Dallas caught this one as quickly as they did.

  • Erika Huddleston

    Why don’t they rent it out as a party destination? I know a landlord in Austin who bought a house in town and is remodeling it to hold events during Formula 1 and ACL and SXSW. They plan to partner with local hotels to send convention business. Get creative!

  • leia

    well done. Keri. Thanks for once again getting a clear picture and linking all the facts on one place! As for poor ole’ Kinney and his empty theater…let me get out my tiny violin.