John Buckner's downtown vision for Cape still in the making

Sunday, February 26, 2012
John Buckner, owner of the newly formed Broadway Esquire Entertainment Group, stands along Broadway in Cape Girardeau Wednesday morning, Dec. 28, 2011. Buckner is purchasing the Esquire Theater and hopes to purchase three more building on Broadway, one of which will be a 24-hour diner. (Laura Simon)

John Buckner never takes off his thinking cap.

And in the relatively short time he's been in Cape Girardeau, those thoughts have turned into some high-dollar development deals for the city's downtown.

He and a group of silent partners bought the old, abandoned Esquire Theater at 824 Broadway. A few months later, he announced he's nearing a deal to buy another building on the same block to convert it into a 24-hour diner and has his eye on two others.

Most recently, his Broadway Esquire Entertainment Group announced that it will operate a new fine dining restaurant in the former Mollie's location at 11 S. Spanish St. that will feature chef James Cain.

He hopes others will follow his example.

"We all need to start taking steps up," Buckner said. "With Broadway, we need to consider ourselves very lucky. The casino's doing something so great. We need to consider it a launchpad for us all. There's so many options that we're missing out on."

Buckner, in some respects, remains something of a mystery. He won't say exactly where his money is coming from. The Esquire renovations will cost about $2.7 million in order to rehabilitate it into an independent film house. He has only said he has worked hard and he has some out-of-town investors whom he won't name.

Those who have worked with Buckner say his enthusiasm is infectious. In an interview in December, Tim Arbeiter spoke highly about Buckner.

"I know he's excited about being here," said Arbeiter, the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber's vice president of community development.

Buckner's sort of passion, vision and drive, Arbeiter said, is exactly what is needed.

"The true execution is the actual steps that have to be taken and he has moved some of those thoughts into reality," Arbeiter said. "He's moved out of the brainstorming part into 'What is it really going to take to do this project?' And he's moved. He's really setting the stage, no pun intended."

While it may seem to be happening rather quickly, Buckner has a long career of twists and turns that have led the Farmington, Mo., native back to Southeast Missouri.

He had been away for 25 years. When he was 24, he was pulled away from the area by an offer to work for the Federal Reserve Bank in Nashville, Tenn. An avid art fan, he quit the job at the bank to take a lesser-paying job at a frame shop that he frequented.

It wasn't long before he owned the shop.

In that job, he got to know the local artists who wanted to hang their work there. He began selling the art for them. That led to him becoming an art dealer, which took him to Los Angeles for 15 years.

But it wasn't until he moved to New Orleans a few years back that he would really make a name for himself. He met the respected metal sculptor Dr. Arthur Silverman, the man Buckner says "defined my career." He sold "huge numbers" of Silverman's work, he said.

But then he decided to move to Cape Girardeau to be near his family. He became director of sales at Eustis Studios.

With Isle of Capri's new casino slated to open by year's end and the new Broadway Corridor project in the works, now is the time for Broadway to become re-energized.

"If everybody puts on their thinking caps, it could be an amazing time for Broadway," he said.

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