Big changes at the Admiral, report #2: What’s ahead

June 3, 2008 at 10:03 am | In Admiral Theater, West Seattle news, WS culture/arts | 22 Comments

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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:

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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.”

If not?

“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.”

22 Comments

  1. Did they say when is a good time to call the theatre about donations? I just tried and nobody answered and there was no voicemail set up.

    Comment by SuitsarenotBoring — 12:14 pm June 3, 2008 #

  2. I just called the Admiral & asked to speak to Jeff Brein & was told he was no longer with them I spoke to Tristan who took my name & telephone number to put on a list of donors I guess. I had purchased two chairs last September.He said they would be refunding the money-but not when it would happen.I don’t have a good feeling about it & will keep in touch with them.WSB-when did you speak to Jeff Brein last?Seems odd that all of a sudden he’s gone?!

    Comment by Anne — 2:17 pm June 3, 2008 #

  3. If anyone can get an email address instead of the phone # to call to reach the newest management I’d greatly appreciate it. I’d like my $40 accounted for as well. I also had no luck calling or reaching a voicemail system. Thanks for the updates all.

    Comment by MFo — 3:02 pm June 3, 2008 #

  4. I just tried calling and the message line is full. Has anyone received a call back regarding our donations? I would like to get my money back sooner than later. I’m tempted to go in there in person and see what’s going on. This isn’t good!

    Comment by Marcu — 3:04 pm June 3, 2008 #

  5. Anne: Jeff Brein is the current owner. The person who took your money before, for the seat donations–and who is no longer around–is Steve Garrett. Please read the article above for details with regard to the seat donation issue.

    Kany Levine
    Vice President, Far Away Productions

    Comment by Kany — 3:06 pm June 3, 2008 #

  6. Blogs can be a great way to communicate with many people at once. Unfortunately, they can also be a quick way to disseminate wrong information and spread unnecessary panic.

    Jeff Brein is the owner of the heater. “Tristan” referenced above, is a young concessionaire who was not familiar with the names of the new management nor what is being done about the seat fund.

    The staff is being notified about the situation during the next staff meeting. Please rest assured that the article you read today is accurate. Also, we are reaching the end of the transition period where utilities had to be switched over including utility and phone companies.

    A new voice mail has been set up which will allow people to leave their phone numbers and names. Even though legally, the new management company is not financially liable for any monies taken prior to them taking over the theater, they are looking to extend a good neighborly hand in cleaning up a mess that was not ours.

    Most likely they are looking to offer concessions and movie tickets as compensation. This management company will not be offering cash refunds for a program they did not initiate.

    Understandably, it’s important for those people who were affected by this “fund” to have some kind of receipt or cancelled check of their transaction for us to extend this courtesy.

    We understand that approximately 40 people had contributed to this fund and we are searching for records to help us identify these correct people.

    Comment by dinah — 3:37 pm June 3, 2008 #

  7. Mr. Levine-I called the Admiral Theatre at 2pm today and asked for Jeff Brein-I was told”he don’t work here no more”.Perhaps the first order of business would be to have employees that know who the owner is?!

    Comment by Anne — 3:46 pm June 3, 2008 #

  8. Anne–we will take care of that problem.

    Thanks, Kany

    Comment by Kany — 3:57 pm June 3, 2008 #

  9. Personally, I would write a letter to them in addition to calling if you’re trying to get back your donation – so you at least document it in writing.

    Comment by Sue — 3:58 pm June 3, 2008 #

  10. Hey folks, read Dinah’s email. These new owners should not be responsible for unethical behavior of previous managers. You can write a letter, but aren’t the people that took your money long gone? I think that’s how unethical people work … leaving the scene of the crime.

    Comment by d-san — 4:27 pm June 3, 2008 #

  11. Just a thought for the new owners – when I was a kid, the local theater sold a summer matinee series of tickets to school kids. We went to the theater to watch kid appropriate movies every week or two during the summer and had a blast. The movies showed from 2 to 4, so didn’t interfere with the regular business. The tickets were pre-sold through our elementary school – (perhaps some type of a partial fundraiser for the school? and maybe only avaialable to 3,4,and 5th graders) which also made it feasible for the theater to run the movies. Just a thought to consider….

    Comment by M.M.M. — 7:54 pm June 3, 2008 #

  12. Thanks to Dinah and Kany for responding within this thread. I wouldn’t say “blogs spread panic” – and this site is only a “blog” in name – it’s a professionally produced, frequently updated commercial news site with real-time reader comments like most news sites, enabling real-time community discussion and information-sharing. Including the opportunity for folks like the “new” Admiral team to not only respond to comments, but also to learn that they had people at the theater who hadn’t been briefed yet – not surprising given, as Jeff Brein told us in the interview, all this unfolded rather suddenly. Glad to hear the staff-info situation is being fixed, also glad to be able to get the information out – the questions started arriving in our inbox fairly soon after “Under New Management” appeared on the marquee – TR

    Comment by WSB — 11:27 pm June 3, 2008 #

  13. I would be more than happy to have the money I paid for seats go to something else at the Admiral.The whole point of the donation was to help refurbish it.As one born & raised in WS I have fond memories of time spent there & well remember the matinees!I think our community is more than ready to help bring the Admiral back!

    Comment by Anne — 9:02 am June 4, 2008 #

  14. d-san, we agree with you. Why hold the new owners accountable for the actions of previous owners. Plus, the money is for a good cause! You can’t really expect to buy a new seat for $40 anyway. Let’s just hope they put the money to good use, and be done with it. Be happy the theater is still open for business. Be supportive of the new ownership so we can continue to have a theater in the Admiral district!

    Comment by slc — 9:19 am June 4, 2008 #

  15. I respectfully disagree with Anne and slc. I purchased 2 seats on the 1 year anniversary of my father’s death as a memorial to him. I was excited to take my future kids to the movies and have them fight over who gets to sit in grandpa’s seat. That’s not going to happen now. I will continue to support local busines and the Admiral theater. However, I want a refund on the seats I purchased so that I can honor my dad’s memory in a different way.

    Comment by mea — 11:09 am June 4, 2008 #

  16. I think it’s amusing that some of you seem to think the new owners have any of this money. I don’t expect them to pay me back but it would be nice if they showed some sympathy rather than being defensive. It would also be nice if they would pass on the contact information of the previous manager who stole from us.

    Comment by jk67 — 11:12 am June 4, 2008 #

  17. Jeff Brein said they would share that information when they had it.

    Comment by WSB — 11:36 am June 4, 2008 #

  18. Having lived in the Admiral District for 7 years, I am happy to have a theater so close that I can walk to it. I was excited when the Admiral started doing more varied schedule. Midnight movies, comedians, music, burlesque shows… great! I spoke with the previous owner a while back, and felt that something was slightly shady. For example, after going to one of the midnight screenings, my friends and I realized that it was not a poor looking print of the film we were watching, it was just a DVD being projected on the big screen, complete with the word “PLAY” in green in the upper corner at the start of the movie. I figured that it must be illegal, but I was happy to think that the theater was drawing a crowd and on the road to solvency and refurbishment.

    I am torn as to how to feel about the Theater changing hands again. On one hand, I appreciate the direction that Garrett was going in. It was great to see fresh ideas and a new approach to restoring the theater to what it once was – a hub for the neighborhood. I hope that that enthusiasm is not dampened by new management. The theater needs more than a coat of paint now and again. Seats are a good start, as well as new carpet. As much as it is looking like Steve was full of hot air, he was full of good ideas. In my aforementioned conversation with him, his excitement for the theater was palpable. I hope that the new management continues this spirit of renewal.

    On the other hand, I would love to see the theater managed properly. Midnight movies are a great idea, but let’s make sure that they are shown legally and are legitimate prints of the films. Live entertainment may fit into the vision of the new management, but it’s always a risky proposition to have to pay entertainers no matter what, while hedging income on expected attendance. Let’s face it, it’s not known as a live venue in town, so most people will not seek it out as such. Growth is going to require navigation of some tricky waters in the Admiral’s future, including the issue of the community feeling slighted by the loss of money to Garrett.

    Should the new management be culpable for the financial loss by the community? Legally, no. Would it be prudent to honor the donations thus far in some way? I cannot think of a better way to re-establish trust and good will with the community. Maybe Brein can appease those who can prove that they donated (via a returned check perhaps) and honor those donors in some way in the future renovations.

    I would love to see the theater grow and re-establish itself as one of the great amenities that we have in West Seattle, instead of “that discount theater” down the block.

    Comment by Peter — 12:48 pm June 5, 2008 #

  19. Peter, it actually can be legal to show a DVD in a movie theatre setting if it’s properly licensed, and is sometimes a better option than than showing a low-quality, beaten-up print. This is especially true for older films.
    .
    Most (if not all) of the movies shown at Central Cinema are projected from DVD or other non-film sources. Personally, I would love to see the Admiral go the route of Central Cinema, with an interesting and eclectic slate of new and classic films… along with pizza and beer! http://www.central-cinema.com/

    Comment by Keith — 4:02 pm June 5, 2008 #

  20. If you donated money to the theater for the seat renovation, you need to call the theater or email them – both the phone number and email form are available on their website under “Contact” (http://www.admiral-theater.com/).

    I spoke with Leanne yesterday on the phone (don’t ask for Jeff Brein – he doesn’t actually work at the theater). She said they are collecting names, phone numbers and email addresses of people who donated to the bogus seat restoration. In a couple of weeks they will be sending out an email to these people with some explanation of what happened and some form of compensation.

    Comment by nb — 4:35 pm June 6, 2008 #

  21. Personally, I hope they decide to continue live entertainment – it could be a lovely venue for all kinds of performances, both local and touring; there aren’t enough of these type/size of spaces around.

    Comment by retro — 11:36 am June 28, 2008 #

  22. I purchased two seats. I have a canceled check for $80.
    The new management may not be responsible however it’s still feels bad being fleeced.

    Comment by KR — 7:19 pm August 6, 2008 #

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