Don't write the Ridglea Theater off quite yet.
I met with Levi Weaver yesterday, a stone's throw from the Ridglea itself. He just might change everything -- Weaver is a third party with no business ties to FixFunding or Bank of America or even the Ridglea's current tenants (Richard Van Zandt and Wesley Hathaway).
A Fort Worth native, who got married at the Ridglea three years ago (he and his wife draped white linens over much of the main space to class up the joint), Weaver has an interesting proposal that would pull him and his family away from their current home in Nashville. Weaver, a musician, wants to buy the building, with help from investors, and reclaim it as an art house movie theater, as well as a part-time music venue. Think booking bands like the Granada in a space that also shows flicks suitable for the Angelika, but with the capability to host weddings or graduations or corporate functions or even theater performances. "I'm hoping to exude art and class at every turn," Weaver says.
It's the latest twist in an increasingly strange tale, but incredibly, a development that isn't out of the question. Indeed, since we broke the news Bank of America has a contract with Dallas-based FixFunding to acquire the Ridglea Theater, the situation is mostly as it was when we last left it: waiting to see what happens next.
Except that, if possible, it appears the Ridglea's fate, on the eve of Historic Fort Worth's guided tour of the space, seems to be even more complicated than it was at the end of June. Speculation, hearsay, rumors and facts are all mingling, with seemingly no one totally clear on where things stand. After speaking with multiple sources, it would seem there just could be reason to hope the Ridglea might avoid being turned into a bank. It's worth noting, as it has been from the start, that anything other than a Bank of America branch in that spot is a long shot.
While Weaver has no investors committed yet, he's racing around town all week meeting with interested parties and showing them his financial models. He's even met with city councilman Zim Zimmerman, has reached out to Bank of America and will be meeting with FixFunding later this week. (It's worth noting that FixFunding is willing to take Weaver seriously to the point of meeting with him, when they could easily dismiss him and his proposal.) Part of Weaver's plan, as he explained to me, includes establishing a non-profit to run the day-to-day operations of the theater.
As for the tenants currently occupying the Ridglea Theater, Van Zandt and Hathaway have 11 months remaining on their lease, but maintain they have heard nothing from FixFunding, although architects have continued to tour the building and take measurements. They currently have shows booked into June of next year.
Like everyone else, Weaver's potential investors are waiting to see what, if anything, Bank of America will do with the Ridglea property. The only way Weaver could move forward is if the bank were to back out of the sale (provided FixFunding doesn't somehow keep Bank of America on as tenants or with some other arrangement). To that end, Weaver stressed that continued or even increased public pressure on Bank of America would be the only way to force change.
Councilman Zim Zimmerman confirmed to me that he will not declare the building a historic landmark, as that would further complicate any potential renovation or restoration of the Ridglea. (Zimmerman can only initiate the process, via the city council; the designation process would still unfold as usual.) Historic Fort Worth, for their part, has continued to press the city to designate the Ridglea as a historic landmark.
But will that be enough? It would appear that FixFunding/Bank of America is continuing apace to complete a sale and put a bank branch where the Ridglea now stands. According to city records filed July 15, FixFunding has applied for a demolition permit (which covers "partial demolition of retail/office/business"), but have not paid for it and there's a hold on it, which is keeping it from being issued. That only further muddies the status of the project: Has Bank of America completed its due diligence? Why would the current owner be applying for a demolition permit when there's a potential buyer in the offing?
For their part, FixFunding maintains that they are "working to preserve many of the architectural elements that make the theater identifiable and memorable." In a statement released by the company, FixFunding quotes investor Mark Pitzer as saying: "We have contacted many possible users but to no avail. There is no funding for retail projects in this market right now and there is no interest, especially for a single screen theater."
According to the statement, since taking ownership of the property last fall, FixFunding has "spent significant money cleaning up the property, making needed repairs and paying off long overdue liens as well as property taxes." Furthermore, FixFunding says they had representatives looking for a buyer that could "utilize the theater as an entertainment venue" but had no luck.
I'm waiting to hear back from Bank of America's spokeswoman and will update if/when I get answers to my questions.
[UPDATE: Here's the response from Bank of America spokeswoman Diane Wagner: "We are still in the process of conducting our due diligence on the property which includes assessing the physical nature of building as well as the grounds." I sent a total of five questions to Wagner this afternoon, the bulk of which she said should be referred to and addressed by FixFunding.]
Is there room for a sliver of exceptionally cautious optimism? Yes. If Weaver was to accomplish even half of what he hopes to, it would be a boon not only for the creative community of Fort Worth but would also inject some badly needed energy into a portion of the city that's threatening to slip into homogeneous oblivion. All of Weaver's ambitious plans hinge upon forces beyond his control, but he's putting a lot of energy into his proposal at least being heard. Although many have written the Ridglea off as doomed to new development, nothing is quite finished yet.
Sandra Baker contributed to this report.