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Developer rethinking whether to proceed with Esquire renovation in Cape
With work stalled and a deal to buy the building at a standstill, a $2.7 million plan to rehabilitate Cape Girardeau's Esquire Theater into an independent film house is now being punctuated with a question mark.
Developer John Buckner acknowledged Friday that he is taking the weekend to decide whether to move forward on the high-profile project that was announced in October for the 67-year-old building at 824 Broadway.
"I want to step back and rethink and evaluate what I'm doing here to make sure it's still sustainable and we can still push forward," Buckner said. "I just want to step back and analyze. I'll know more on Monday."
Buckner reiterated several times that his mind is not made up. But the project was called into question when another of Buckner's business ventures, Razing Cain, closed Thursday. The restaurant, where James Cain was the chef, was open less than a month in the former Mollies location on Spanish Street in downtown Cape Girardeau.
"I just didn't really do my research before I hopped in on a lot of these projects and now they're plagued with problems," Buckner said.
Buckner would not offer specifics on what those problems were, except that he was struggling to close the deal to buy the Esquire building from its owner, Phil Brinson. The building still had "obligations" attached to it, Buckner said.
On Friday, Brinson did not return a phone call left at his downtown restaurant, Buckner's Brewing Co. James Cain's wife, Olivia, would only say that her husband was no longer associated with the restaurant.
Buckner previously said he also had his eye on several Broadway buildings on the same block as the Esquire, including a 1950s-themed diner. But Buckner has been mum about the source of his finances for his Broadway Esquire Entertainment Group, only saying that he has "private investors" and "silent partners."
"I don't want to make it a huge to-do, when it's not," Buckner said. "We're trying to work through it and make something positive happen. I can't say anything until I know more. I just don't know what I'm going to do with the Esquire Theater. I want to focus on my art gallery and the art right now. That's where my top priority lies."
Buckner, a Southeast Missouri native, is an art promoter and dealer who has worked predominately in New Orleans before recently returning to the area. The Broadway Esquire Entertainment Group recently merged with Eustis Studios at 1606 Independence St., where Buckner was director of sales, and the gallery's name has been changed to Broadway Gallery & Framing.
Old Town Cape executive director Marla Mills said it was her understanding that the project has turned out to be more than Buckner expected. But she said she did not know the full extent of the problems. While Buckner has had the interior cleaned out, the actual rehabilitation work has yet to start.
"We're just waiting like you to see what he's going to do," Mills said. "But, sure, going from 'This is going to happen' to waiting to see if it's going to happen at all is a disappointment. But I don't want to say that too soon until he makes his decision. ... Obviously, our confidence isn't 100 percent that it's going to go forward."
Buckner created some buzz when he publicly announced he would renovate the theater into a 500-seat art-house theater that shows independent movies. The announcement was made at a news conference outside the theater and was attended by several city dignitaries, including representatives from the Cape Girardeau City Council, the area chamber of commerce and others. The theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Buckner said it would allow patrons to buy food and drinks from a wait staff.
The Esquire Theater, which originally opened in 1947, closed its doors as a movie house in 1984. Another company tried to open the Esquire as a discount theater for second-run films, but it closed as a movie theater after just nine months in 1985.
Business editor Melissa Miller contributed to this report.
824 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO