Arthouse cinema update: Fort Worth Zoning Commission gives unanimous approval

arthouse theater movies Fort Worth Evans-Rosedale Pinkston

The Fort Worth Zoning Commission unanimously approved the rezoning of a historic mortuary in the Evans-Rosedale neighborhood to allow sales of alcoholic beverages for onsite consumption, opening a landing spot for a proposed multi-screen arthouse movie theater.

Commissioners voted 7-0 on Wednesday to approve the request of developers Jennifer Neil Farmer and Robb Farmer, of the F5designBuild firm, to rezone the 46,000-square-foot site on the east side of Interstate 35W, across the highway from the Near Southside. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the case April 3.

The case drew the support of the Southeast Fort Worth, Inc., and Near Southside, Inc. economic development nonprofits, and the Historic Southside neighborhood association. Amy McNutt and James Johnston, owners of the Spiral Diner vegan restaurant on the Near Southside's West Magnolia Avenue, have been looking for years for a site to build a proposed Citizen Theater on but have been thwarted by lack of parking on the urban infill sites they've looked at. McNutt, in an interview last week, said the site is ideal in that it's large enough to expand the 12,000-square-foot building to allow multiple theaters and still provide enough parking.

"We have had absolutely overwhelming support for this, and hopefully, it will jumpstart" revitalization around it, Wanda Conlin, the zoning commissioner whose district includes Evans-Rosedale, said, in making the motion to approve the rezoning. City Council member Kelly Allen Gray, whose district includes Evans-Rosedale, expressed support for the proposed project in an interview before the zoning hearing.

The Farmers bought the building 821 E. Terrell St., in 2016 and had cleaned it up and made repairs and were preparing to go to the city for permit to renovate the shell when McNutt contacted them in December.

What McNutt 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 last week. 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 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.

Jennifer Farmer, in presenting her case for the rezoning, drew on the neighborhood's history as a commercial center from the 1920s through the 1970s. "We look for the highest and best use of old buildings that have sat vacant for a long time," she told the zoning commission.

In an interview before the zoning hearing, Farmer said she and her husband would revert to their original plan if the City Council didn't approve alcohol sales. If the council approves the Citizen Theater proposal, "then we would break ground 2019," Farmer said in the interview. "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."