Published October 19th, 2016
Lafayette Moves a Step Closer to Park Theater Reuse
By Victor Ryerson
Lafayette's Park Theater. Photo Victor Ryerson
A trio of local investors, who envision reusing Lafayette's Park Theater as an art film cinema, performing arts venue and community center, moved a step closer to their dream when the Lafayette City Council agreed to form a subcommittee to cut through the red tape of including the historic building in the Plaza Way Overlay. The action was sought by the investor group so they could determine the financial feasibility of buying the theater by Dec. 16, when their option expires.

The building, as well as its small parking lot and an adjacent fourplex, are within the city's Plaza Way Overlay District, a zone that was created to preserve the historic character of the area. Lafayette zoning law requires a property owner opting into the district to enter into an agreement with the city governing architectural features such as the faŠade, as well as parking and other requirements. Knowing the prospective agreement's requirements in detail is essential to the investor group's ability to decide whether to go forward with the deal, so they sought the creation of the council subcommittee to expedite the process.

The theater closed 11 years ago, a victim of changing times. Its last operator, Renaissance Rialto Theaters, could not compete with the burgeoning multiplexes in the area or make repairs and improvements needed to meet accessibility and other requirements. The building has been sitting unused ever since, while the neighboring downtown plaza area has been transformed into a vibrant district of new shops and restaurants. A recent plan to reopen the old theater as a Fenton's Creamery fell through, and developers started showing interest in the theater and associated property with the prospect of demolishing the structure and constructing something new on the strategic site.

Enter the investor trio, Cathy Abbott, her husband Fred, and Alex McDonald, who developed a business plan they see as the last and best chance to save the old movie house. Their plan is to redevelop the theater as a multiuse facility that will not only serve as an arts cinema, but will also be used by Lafayette schools, Town Hall Theatre and other entities. Collectively, the investor group believes, the the income from these multiple sources will suffice to keep the theater afloat and preserve the historic structure as part of the quaint plaza district.

At its Oct. 11 meeting the council voted unanimously to grant the request to form the subcommittee, which will consist of two council members and two members of the planning commission yet to be determined. It is expected to work out the details of the agreement and bring it back to the council for approval at a later date. Assuming the council approves it, the plan will then proceed to design review.

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