The Citizen Theater - a multi-screen arthouse cinema and the longtime dream of the Fort Worth restaurateur Amy McNutt and her film producer husband James Johnston - may have finally found a landing spot in Southeast Fort Worth's emerging Evans-Rosedale corridor.
The Fort Worth developers Jennifer Neil Farmer and her husband, Robb Farmer (photo), propose to expand the old Pinkston building they own at 821 E. Terrell St. to allow multiple screening rooms for McNutt's cinema. The Pinkston has served as a mortuary and theater since it was built, in three stages beginning in 1921.
The Farmers, who bought the Pinkston in 2016, go before the Fort Worth Zoning Commission Wednesday, seeking a rezoning to allow sales of alcohol for onsite consumption. The case wlll also address parking; the Farmers say they expect to negotiate parking requirements as part of the case. The city staff, with the agreement of the Farmers, is expected to recommend that package alcohol sales not be allowed in any rezoning. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the case April 3. The mixed-use zoning around the Pinkston building allows alcohol sales, but the Pinkston site itself does not allow alcohol sales.
McNutt, who has been searching for years for a site for an arthouse cinema, contacted the Farmers in December about landing her idea there.
What she wants to do: Add three to four small screening rooms in an expansion of the 12,000-square-foot building, which can currently hold one screening room, McNutt said in an interview. Two of the screening rooms would likely have about 50 seats apiece, and the other two, about 90 seats apiece, McNutt said. The required expansion could be about 8,000 square feet of building space, McNutt said.
The building would have a bar and nibbles serving movie patrons, who could take their food and beverage into the screening rooms. There would be no table service in the theaters, McNutt said.
The theaters would show first-run art movies, McNutt said. "Right now, we'd be showing 'Lady Bird,' 'I Tonya,' 'Shape of Water,' " she said.
McNutt likes the central location of the building in the Evans-Rosedale, across Interstate 35W from the Near Southside. And she likes the building's history as a one-time theater.
She and her husband and the Farmers haven't determined how the partnership and financing of the project would work, McNutt said. "That's something we're still figuring out," she said. She stressed she and the Farmers want to clear rezoning and city council approval first. McNutt said she and Johnston would not go forward at the Pinkston location without being allowed to sell alcoholic beverages.
The Farmers had cleaned up the building and made repairs and come up with plans for a café and retail spaces, and were preparing to apply to the city for permits to renovate the building shell when McNutt contacted them, Jennifer Farmer said in an interview.
If they don't receive the rezoning, the Farmers would revert to their original plan, Jennifer Farmer said. "We work slowly," she said. "We're very community-minded and careful."
The site is 46,000 square feet in size, providing ample opportunity for negotiated parking in the rezoning, Farmer said.
Parking has been primarily what's thwarted the Citizen Theater's previous attempts to land a site, McNutt said.
"We have tried a few different locations, and every time, it doesn't go through because of parking," McNutt said. She had looked at a site, for one, near their Spiral Diner on West Magnolia Avenue where a multi-story, mixed-use building is under construction. The city's Near Southside design and zoning overlay allows developers ample freedom to plan their own parking.
But "it would have been irresponsible to do it there," McNutt said. "It would have had 12 spaces or something like that. This is a very tricky project to fit into an urban infill development. There are lots of cool spots on the Near Southside, but they're all kind of sandwiched in."
If the City Council approves the Citizen Theater proposal, "then we would break ground 2019," Farmer said. "If the alcohol amendment doesn't go through, then we're not the home for the citizen theater. We can do a restaurant without alcohol; then, we go forward in 2018."
"Until we're under construction and open for business, I'm not going to get my hopes up," McNutt said. "We'll see."
The project has the support of the Southeast Fort Worth, Inc., economic development nonprofit, which believes the redeveloped Pinkston could serve as a catalyst for further good development in the Historic Southside neighborhood and Evans-Rosedale district.
Asked in an interview what she thinks of the rezoning proposal, City Council member Kelly Allen Gray said, "I need it to be a little bit more precise. I need to know that it's happening. I need to know that they are actually able to do it. I think if they can pull it off, it's a great plan. They have some zoning issues to work through. I think it'll be a great asset if they can truly do what they're saying."
PHOTO: Inside the old Pinkston, Jennifer and Robb Farmer. Photo by Olaf Growald