Future of Old Town Theater space up in the air

The Old Town Theater’s new owner, Robert Kaufman, is looking for tenants to fill the nearly 100-year-old film house, but hasn’t ruled out giving the building’s original purpose an extended lease.

Kaufman has a couple of ideas for the 815 1/2 King St. institution, including renting out the space to large retailers — think J. Crew — though nothing is set in stone. Several people have approached him about using the space as a theater, but they’ll need to convince him it’s commercially viable.

“They may know how to [successfully run] a theater that size their way,” he said. “Then, obviously, I’m interested in seeing it remain [a theater], but it’s got to have some oomph behind the interest.”

McEnearney Associates sold the Old Town Theater to Rob Kaufman, who could lease it to a retailer or even another theater entrepreneur. (David Sachs)

Kaufman discussed the building’s use with consultants, all of whom have told him the space is to small to work as a successful theater.

Either way, the Old Town institution should have new occupants by September. In the meantime, Kaufman will renovate the building — and tear down the marquee — while bringing it up to code.

He’s no stranger to renovation projects. Kaufman scooped up properties at 810 and 815 King Street and restored the buildings to their original glory.

“I’ve seen what that building looked like in its previous form and felt it was important to put it back to that,” he said. “It’s … a very important part of the fabric of Old Town that one utilizes the best these buildings can give and get them to look as appropriate as you can physically make them look.”

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(7) Readers Comments

  1. It was around 1979 when we saw Port City Playhouse’s production of “Little Miss Sunshine” here. I think they had at least one season here.

  2. Sigh. It’s too bad about tearing down the marquee before anyone knows who’s going to rent it. What IF someone wanted to keep it a theater? What if some restaurant group wanted to open an offbeat kind of place that had the look of an old time theater? What if a retailer thought it was a good look? What’s the harm in waiting to see?

    I’m also fairly confident that whoever these consultants are really lack imagination or creativity. This place could definately serve a niche population of moviegoers, and profit from it, if done correctly.

    • Then how come the theater has NEVER done well? It has nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with the size and money.

  3. I woulld like to know what these consultants based their findings on ? There over 600 venues/theaters with the same or smaller seating capacity doing well in other markets. As a 2nd run movie/last event venue this theater could do very well.

  4. Of course I meant Live Event,not last event,

  5. My wife and I enjoyed seeing quite a few movies at the Old Town. It drew us to have dinner in Old Town more than once when we otherwise would have gone elsewhere.

    I urge the new owner to seek more creative consultants with a broader base of knowledge in the industry and give it one more try.

    A well-managed movie theater, with the opportunity to see Academy Award level indy, foreign, animated, short and other films, that aren’t shown elsewhere, would have made it a must-visit site. Monthly and yearly subscription discount options could be tried too.

    How about a special rate for the best seats? How about reservations for opening nights, including opening night parties featuring a celebrity?

    Of course, that would have required proper promotion too – including visits from Hollywood stars, particularly those who grew up in the tri-state area. There are quite a few people with excellent contacts living in our city. That could have been done – and still can be done.

    Should the Old Town disappear and become just another retail outlet, like J Crew, Alexandria will have lost a unique space with enormous untapped potential, not just for the enjoyment of the folks living in the region but as an economic engine for King Street and the nearby area.

    • Just so you are aware the ownerS have spoken to over 50 people with different niches within the industry. All have said the same thing. It will not work. The owners have also tried very hard to make it work and to keep it as a theater.

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