As we reported yesterday, the “new” operator of the Admiral Theater – who’s also one of its “old” operators – spoke with WSB and provided information we’re writing up in two reports. The first one yesterday focused on the fate of the donations solicited by the historic theater’s former manager (read that story here); this morning, our second report has the details on what the new operator plans to do next – including a relatively quick timetable for a key decision on the Admiral’s future:
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
We had a hint of the Admiral changes even before “under new management” appeared on the marquee.
For months, we had been trying to set up an interview with then-manager Steve Garrett to talk about his donation drive to restore the historic theater — an official city landmark — and about his efforts to expand the entertainment lineup.’
Recent offerings included the JP Patches Saturday morning appearance we covered here. Just before that show, we had spoken to Garrett to arrange an interview for the following week. He told us in that phone conversation that some sort of battle for control of the Admiral was under way, involving someone he described as his “former business partner.”
We expected to get more details during the interview we had set up with him for the week after Memorial Day. But the morning we showed up, Garrett wanted to reschedule, saying he was trying to solve some problems — one of which involved the theater’s website, which as reported here had suddenly gone down.
Before our rescheduled interview, he was ousted. The man whose company is running the Admiral now – and ran it until about a year ago, Jeff Brein, listened to the backstory above and said, “The former business partner is gone too.”
Here’s how Brein explains what happened: Garrett and his former business partner had taken over the theater a year ago, but Brein’s company, which operated it until about a year ago, had guaranteed the lease, as part of the terms Brein says owner Marc Gartin set out when the management change happened.
“Three weeks ago,” Brein told us, “we got a call from the landlord, who said, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, you have the Admiral back. The bad news is, you owe us a ton of money for back rent and other money that hasn’t been paid. … So, we turned around and went back in and started operating the theater. … And we’re finding all kinds of surprises every day.”
He says he does not have the specifics on why the owner gave the previous management the boot and turned it back over to him. (We have been working to contact Garrett for comment.) He says he hadn’t even talked to his former business partner – the same person he identifies as the former business partner Garrett had mentioned — in a year.
Right now, Brein says, there’s one big he has a year left on the Admiral’s lease. Within the next month or so, he hopes to negotiate a longer-term lease. “I think it’s a great theater,” he says of the Admiral, “but it needs an awful lot of work” — and how much of that work he does depends on whether he will be running it for the long haul.
As reported here yesterday, Brein has no information — so far — about the donations previous management took to restore the theater, and he says the restorations he had heard discussed in interviews and media reports basically weren’t done. “When I heard about all that, my initial reaction was ‘good for them’,” he recalled. “Imagine my surprise when I saw the restoration hasn’t taken place. We do know the theater needs a tremendous amount of work.”
Specifically, the donation drive that had been under way asked community members to pay $40 for a new seat. Brein says his company has never solicited community donations for a project like that — if it needs to be done, they would fund it themselves. “i don’t even know whether the concept of the seat restoration program is viable — I can tell you we’ve refurbished a lot of our theaters but have never gone to the general public — it’s just an expense we incur.”
Before turning over the theater, he notes, they had in fact already done some work — “we had the facade painted, the carpets cleaned.” We in fact caught a photo of that painting work in April 2007:
And the Admiral’s physical challenges are only part of what he’s facing. He acknowledges community concern about the movie slate it offers. His company owns and operates eight theaters in the state and he says he has “excellent rapport” with the movie studios — “we can basically get what we want” — so he hopes to improve the lineup. As we spoke yesterday, he said the plan for the next few weeks was in the works. And secondrun mainstream movies aren’t the only types he’s thinking about: “When we ran it, we were bringing in art films as well as second run. I hope to bring in ‘Young at Heart’ next week – it’s a great art film in first run right now. We would like to bring film festivals, filmmakers, a lot of the stuff we were doing before, to give the theater a showcase for the community.”
And he also lauds the former managers for trying to innovate by including live entertainment. Should that be part of the Admiral’s future? Brein says that decision has yet to be made: “We have inherited a schedule [of events already booked] … we’ll live up to those commitments and are going to work hard to try to see if live entertainment is appropriate for that venue. It won’t replace the movies; we’re first and foremost a movie theater. There are times when live entertainment may work, if we can generate the revenue to support it and pay the bills of the theater, then we are fully committed to a mix of live and film.”
But first, as mentioned earlier, there’s the issue of the lease. “I would like to sign a longterm lease, personally,” Brein reiterates. “That’s what we would like to do. (But) in doing so, we want to budget in, with the help of the landlord, some money we could use to clean the place up, put in some new carpeting, maintain it. We have no interest in modernizing it from an appearance standpoint – we want to preserve and protect what’s there, and want to make it better. I think it’s a viable business – it’s been there a long time, the neighborhood has been supportive. Providing we can work with the landlord and get some things worked out between us – we’re really committed. We’re happy to get it back; we wish the circumstances for everybody were a little better.”
Brein hopes to negotiate a lease extension within the next 30 days, and if that happens, he says, “we want to get to work on certain improvements if we decide we’re going to be here a while.”
“We’ll run it sensibly and appropriately and move on. But I’m optimistic in preliminary discussions with the landlord – I know he wants to maintain the theater.”
Before our conversation ended, Brein reiterated the information we shared in the first report yesterday – if you gave money for the seat drive, please call the theater. They’ll be asking for a different kind of contact soon too, as new Admiral promoter Dinah Brein mentioned on this WSB Forum thread – they’ll be asking for more ideas on the theater’s entertainment offerings. “We really are open and accommodating to ideas. We want to have fun with this venue. … I think the theater has a bright future.”