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Development deal for Esquire Theater to be announced today
An announcement about the future of the Esquire Theater on Broadway in Cape Girardeau is expected to come today during a 10 a.m. news conference, a source close to the deal confirmed to the Southeast Missourian on Tuesday.
While city and downtown organization officials remained mum about the project, Old Town Cape released a vague media advisory about a "development deal" that would be announced at the Esquire's address, 824 Broadway.
The two-story brick building opened as a theater in 1947 and closed in the 1980s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Most recently owned by Buckner Brewing Co. proprietor Phil Brinson, the building has sat neglected for years.
Old Town Cape executive director Marla Mills declined further comment about the project, but said that a "development deal" was the best way to describe what was happening. The advisory says the plans are "to revive a major, historic building in downtown Cape Girardeau."
The 64-year-old building was a flurry of activity Tuesday morning, with Mills, Kelly Green, Steven Hoffman and Phil Penzel seen coming out of the building before noon. Green is the city's development services director and Penzel is the president of Penzel Construction in Jackson. Hoffman is an Old Town Cape board member and historic preservation coordinator at Southeast Missouri State University as well as a volunteer adviser of the city's Historic Preservation Commission.
The Esquire was constructed in 1946-1947 and completed in January 1947. It was designed by Harold Roth and Bernard Woolner of Memphis, Tenn. W.G. Bartels, a Cape Girardeau merchant, commissioned the construction of the theater and hired the local building firm of Gerhardt Construction Co. The estimated cost of construction back then was $75,000, but upon completion the total cost was $150,000.
The Esquire Theater closed its doors Oct. 7, 1984. It reopened in 1985 as a second-run theater, but closed again in early 1986.
The source close to the deal said the group was touring the building to evaluate it before Wednesday's news conference.
The advisory said that the conference will be attended by Mills, Mayor Harry Rediger, city manager Scott Meyer and John Mehner, president and CEO of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce.
"Actually, I know very little about it," Rediger said Tuesday afternoon. "But they asked me not to say anything about it until the announcement, so I'm just going to not comment."
Meanwhile, Broadway business owners who have lived for years with what they described as an eyesore, said they were pleased that something was going to be done with the building.
"I think it has to be good news," said Andrew Tarry, whose law office is at 827 Broadway. "Anything's better than it just sitting there."
Tarry noted that the timeworn marquee collapsed in 2008 and now the view out of his office window is exposed steel and girders.
"It's been an eyesore," he said. "No question about it. ... To get something useful over there is good. This area is kind of -- I don't know if declining is the right word, but I've had cinder blocks thrown through my window."
Steve Rector opened his Get Noticed printing and apparel business in March and he's known something was up with the building for weeks. He's seen workers on ladders and a parade of people coming and going in recent days.
"I knew something was happening," Rector said. "I'm glad to see somebody doing something with it."
Anytime a building sits vacant, especially one in disrepair, it hurts every business on the block, Rector said.
"We all look bad," he said. "People want to go somewhere that's pleasing to the eye. I'd like to get every building occupied on this block."
And at least one business owner, Andrew Johnson of the Comix Strip, said he is sentimental about the building that served as a movie theater. He remembers taking his wife there on their second date to see "Cat People" in the 1980s.
"It was a fun place," Johnson said. "It's been an eyesore, but I don't think it scares people. I don't think it's dangerous. People still come by and look at it as a historic landmark. If they're going to fix it up, I'm glad."
824 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO