Much gnashing of teeth has occurred over the Parkway Theater's persistent state of closure, and it's not about to end anytime soon. That's news to Parkway fans who have been waiting for all year to hear that J. Moses Ceaser, the Oakland entrepreneur who has made a noble mission of reopening the revered theater, had finally signed a lease. Somewhere. Anywhere. But as of yesterday afternoon, the latest is this: Not one, not two, but three potential deals seem to have fallen apart. Now Ceaser's back on the street, $415,000 in seed money in hand, just looking for a place to spend it.
For those who haven't followed every harrowing step, here's how it went down: 1) First, for a variety of reasons not related to ticket sales, the Parkway closed in March 2009; 2) over the course of a year, a parade of folks tried to reopen the theater at its original Park Blvd. location; all failed; 3) late last year, along came Ceaser, announcing that he had a fresh plan; 4) support for a new Parkway, both financial and otherwise, swelled; 5) but Ceaser had no luck with the run-down theater on Park Blvd., either; 6) so he set his sights elsewhere.
Ceaser and his supporters hoped that one of the alternatives would pan out by springtime, but alas. Various landlord, lease, and renovation issues have stalled negotiations at the proposed Temescal and Uptown locations, and Ceaser is back on the hunt for a new home. In a recent message to the thousands following via regular email missives (read the whole thing below), the fearless leader started to show cracks in his facade. He titled the email "Exasperating!" and summed up recent lease negotiations thusly: "Oh, the frustration. The frustration of being so close — or at least being led to believe so — and then learning that a deal is not to be."
New The New Parkway is asking the public to help. According to Ceaser, a new location must: be located in Oakland’s central area and be easily accessible by car and public transportation, ideally not more than a mile or two from the original location; offer 9,000 to 15,000 square feet in space (ideally all on one level, but possibly on two), ceilings at least twenty feet high, and few or no columns; and feature a landlord who can deliver the building with fire safety, good plumbing and electrical, and two large ADA restrooms. His business is willing to pay an industrial gross rent in the ballpark of $10,000 a month.
"If we get that, we’re willing to pump another 200-300K into the building for a commercial kitchen, the theater spaces, etc, and to be a tenant for 10-25 years," he writes. "Any thoughts? Anything?"
Read the full letter below:
Dear Parkway Lover:
When we officially launched this project in September, we had a set of short-term goals, some seemingly more difficult than others:
1) We hoped to spread the word about what we were doing, get community feedback, and build up support for the reopening of the Parkway.
2) We needed to raise 400K from investors and donors, the approximate start-up funds required to reopen the theater.
3) We needed to garner support from the City of Oakland and many of their agencies to help move the project along.
4) We needed a location to house the theater with reasonable landlords willing to put some money into their building to make it suitable for holding 300 people.
So where are we at? How have we done? I’d say we’ve garnered a fair amount of public support. After all, people love the Parkway, so this piece has been relatively easy. On the financial front, we’ve been able to raise $415,000 amongst 44 investors and 998 Kickstarter backers, and I’m thrilled to say that we now have enough cash to open a theater. In terms of City support, the city council, the redevelopment agency, the Business Assistance Center, and OBDC have all been incredible in their support for our project and have expressed how strongly they believe in our business plan. That means that we’ve hit three out of four, which would be great for ballplayers in the early part of the baseball season, but we need all four. And it’s getting exasperating!
The Lease—Oh, the frustration. The frustration of being so close—or at least being led to believe so—and then learning that a deal is not to be. First it was with the Chengs who kept saying they’d get us a lease contract but never gave us anything in writing. This after having a building vacant for over two years, having been offered tons of support from the City of Oakland, and who keep waiting for something more. Then there was the old Omni/Ligure Club in Temescal. The landlords there not only wanted healthy rent for their very cool 22,000 square foot place, but wanted the tenant to pay for all of the 500K in improvements, including roof, restrooms, and plumbing (sounds a lot like the Chengs). And then, most recently, we thought we were very close with the Negherbons for the old Audi dealership on Broadway but they would offer us something and then take it away. Then offer us something else and take it away. First is was 45 parking spots, then an HVAC unit, then the walls for the restrooms, and so on, except for the asbestos tiles that they were willing to let us keep. I think that the big problem with all of these negotiations is that none of these landlords are “professional” landlords. I wouldn’t have thought this important but I’m realizing that many of the non-professionals 1) don’t know the market so have a skewed view of what their property is worth, 2) don’t know what their buildings legally need to be rented, and 3) don’t know what the improvements will cost. So there’s a lot of waiting around, educating them, and changing offers as more information comes out. I feel like I should know the least about such real estate deals but most of the time it’s the other way around. And that’s a bit troubling. So, here’s what we need and hopefully one of our thousands of readers will be able to produce a new home for the Parkway:
•A location that’s in Oakland’s central core area, easily accessible by car and public transportation, ideally not more than a mile or two from the original location (think Downtown, Uptown, Lake Merritt, edge of North Oakland, edge of West Oakland, edge of East Oakland)
•A 9000-15000 square foot building that has 20 foot ceilings or taller and few or no columns, ideally all on one level but possibly on two, with an industrial gross rent in the ballpark of $10,000/month.
•A landlord who can deliver the building with fire safety, good plumbing and electrical, and two large ADA restrooms.
If we get that, we’re willing to pump another 200-300K into the building for a commercial kitchen, the theater spaces, etc, and to be a tenant for 10-25 years. Any thoughts? Anything?
Membership—We’ve had a burst of membership applications come in, so thanks to all of you. Membership is going to help out the theater a bunch as we get everything rolling. We love the idea of having a large membership base and having you all out at the theater regularly. The New Parkway is happy to introduce a membership option for our patrons. Here are some of the benefits of membership:
· Free entry to the theater on the first Thursday of every month. Stay for one or both movies!
· Half-price tickets for Sunday thru Thursday regular full-price showings (excludes bargain matinees, 2 for 1 Wednesdays, Rocky Horror and any other special screening)
· For showings when your entry discounts aren’t valid, show your membership card for one Parkway Peso, good for a dollar off anything on our menu.
· Free New Parkway t-shirt
And all of that for only $75. We’re only selling 200 such memberships at this price so get them while you can. Find the order form at www.TheNewParkway.com/orderform.pdf.
Volunteer at the Parkway—Please consider volunteering at the New Parkway, as we’re going to have lots of opportunities for one-time and ongoing volunteers, both before and once the theater opens. Please fill out our online form if you’re interested in volunteering: http://tinyurl.com/238hcyc. And if you’ve got other questions, please be sure to send us a note at email@example.com.
Quote of the Week:
“Cuz miracles can happen.”
This came from one of the people polled about the location where the Parkway would end up. This person was part of the 22% of those polled who suggested that the Parkway would end up at 1834 Park Blvd. Can a miracle happen? We’ll see!
Archive of Newsletters—If you’ve missed out on some of the past New Parkway News, you can now find an archive of all of them at www.TheNewParkway.com/NPNews.
Join the Mailing List—For anyone who would like to join the mailing list, you may do so at: http://thenewparkway.com/mailinglist.html.
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Thanks again for your support of the New Parkway!
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J Moses Ceaser
The New Parkway