Culture / Entertainment

Houston’s Beloved River Oaks Theatre on the Brink of Shuttering While Weingarten and Landmark Haggle Over Rent Deal

The Art House Staple's Lease Expires at the End of March

BY // 02.26.21

Despite fears that the fate of Houston’s iconic River Oaks Theater is hanging in the balance due to a stall in lease negotiations, both parties involved — owner Weingarten Realty and lessee Landmark Theatres — say that they wish to see the stalemate resolved. However, both are known as determined negotiators.

Landmark’s lease expires at the end of this March and the two entities are knocking heads over what will be a reasonable rent moving forward in the challenging era of COVID-19. Complicating things is the fact Landmark has paid no rent since March 2020.

Landmark has operated the 1939 Art Deco theater since 1976 turning the ornate, old-style movie palace into a mecca for fans of art house and foreign films. Numerous preservation awards and City of Houston proclamations have been bestowed on the theater through the years and preservationists are keen to see River Oaks Theatre maintain its original grandeur and purpose.

In a press release, Landmark Theatres president and COO Paul Serwitz advised, “We very much want to come to an agreement with Weingarten Realty and be able to continue to run our preeminent art house community theater. However, our lease is quickly coming to an end and, if we are unable to come to terms with our landlord, we will be forced to shutter.”

In response to a PaperCity inquiry, a Weingarten spokesperson notes, “We are hopeful we can come to an agreement with the existing tenant.” And for those who worry that a wrecking ball is in the cards for the theater, the Weingarten spokesperson adds, “We do not have any other future plans for the space.”

Movie theaters across the country and in Houston suffered from the government-mandated closures due to COVID-19 and  after reopening received a further hit from movie-goers’ concerns about safety — and a a woeful lack of new movie releases that are not also available to immediately watch from home on streaming services.

In October, Regal, which had four theaters in the Houston area, closed all 536 of its theaters nationwide. In November, AMC Theaters announced that it was permanently closing the AMC Studio 30 location on Dunvale. Edwards Greenway Grand Plaza is temporarily closed. And iPic in River Oaks District is limiting movie showings to Thursdays through Sundays.

“Obviously, the government mandated closure during the COVID-19 crisis had an enormous impact on our revenue,” Serwitz’ statement continues, “and we are trying to work with Weingarten on a proposal that will be to the benefit of both parties as well as the Houston community.”

In a formal statement on the issue, Weingarten Realty responds, “Silver Cinema Acquisition Company (which operates as Landmark Theatres) has been a key component to River Oaks Shopping Center. We have continued to work with the Company who (sic) has not paid rent since March of 2020. Conversations have indicated that their business model does not support paying more than a fraction of the previous rent going forward.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused many businesses in the entertainment industry, such as theaters, to fail.”

Stay tuned, it sounds like River Oaks Theatre’s fate could be decided soon. And movie goers might not like this coming attraction.

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