Vision wanted – Towne Cinema waits for suitor
The Tudor Village in Avondale Estates wasn’t for sale when Fisher Paty began making offers.
One of its anchor spaces, the Towne Cinema, had been vacant for years. Paty, with Oakhurst Realty Partners, looked at the vacant cinema and imagined the city’s future.
“It’s just a property I’ve always loved and I felt was underutilized,” he said.
Paty gave Decaturish.com a tour on Feb. 6, offering a rare inside view of the cinema, property that’s been an object of curiosity and subject of speculation. That speculation has only increased with the recent developments in the city’s historic downtown. Pallookaville opened last year and its profile is raising the profile of the buildings around it. The Bishop, another restaurant, will open sometime this spring.
Oakhurst Realty closed on the Tudor Village in 2012 and bought the whole thing – cinema included – for $1.1 million. It was about 50 percent leased when the company bought it. It’s about 65 percent leased now, spaces that include the storefront area and the offices looking down on North Avondale Road.
The cinema is still vacant. Paty hasn’t been in a rush to lease it.
The cinema was constructed in 1925 and served as Avondale Estates post office and city hall. It became the Avondale Theater in 1938. Local legend has it that Elvis played there before he was famous. According to some research Paty provided, the 500 seat theater entertained audiences with wrestling, boxing and, of course movies.
Over the years it’s been used as a private residence. The balcony at some point was closed off from the theater and the projector room was modified to include a kitchen and bathroom.
It was most recently used as the Nickel & Dime Recording Studio. Paty had inquiries from a few recording studios, but has held out for tenant who can turn it into something special.
“There are people that have vision and people that don’t,” Paty said as he showed off the old projector room. When Paty bought it, the windows had been painted brown. He scraped the paint off. He opened one of the bottom windows in front of the marquee and the sound of the traffic below rolled in with the cold air. It was a neon sign once. Paty hopes it will be again.
“This could be a speakeasy,” he said. “You could call it, ‘The Projector Room.’”
Whatever it becomes, Paty said his “strong preference” is that it be something open to the public. The ceilings are high enough for a brew pub, he said, and the owners could use the stage for bands that would play there. He could also see it as a performing arts theater, or even an independent cinema.
The building needs about six figures worth of cosmetic improvements, but it’s structurally sound, Paty said.
“We’re willing to give somebody a good deal,” he said. “We recognize that this is a cultural gem.”
Across the street, Pallookaville Owner Jim Stacy was opening the doors for the lunch rush. Decaturish.com got a few minutes of his time and asked him what he’d like to see at the Towne Cinema.
Stacy said he’s open to anything, but would prefer something local and independently owned “and in keeping with the spirit of the neighborhood.”
“It doesn’t matter to me as long as it’s smart and not a chain drug store or something,” Stacy said.
If Paty can find a tenant with vision, it won’t be.