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It seems like a simple question: When will movie theaters reopen in Austin and elsewhere, and when will we be able to see the traditional summer blockbusters?
But the answer is far from simple. In fact, most theater owners don't want to talk about it or make any promises. And that's probably to be expected, since no one knows whether the novel coronavirus that shut everything down in March will be causing trouble through the July holiday box-office bonanza.
Representatives of the Alamo Drafthouse, which operates six theaters in the Austin area, say they are not ready to talk about reopening plans and re-released an earlier statement, saying that any reopening will be "a very complex project that involves countless new procedures and equipment, all of which will require extensive training."
Another large chain, Plano-based Cinemark, said the company is "currently working toward a mid-summer opening date, contingent upon health and safety regulations, as well as availability of studio content." The Cinemark representative said that the first major release currently scheduled is Christopher Nolan's "Tenet," set for July 17. But the representative said that it's important to note that a return to "normalcy" might span multiple months.
Cinemark's mention of "Tenet" is key. It's a major Warner Bros. release, with a budget of around $200 million, according to various industry sources, and if lots of theaters aren't in a position to be open by mid-July, then it might be pushed to a later date. And that would probably delay the opening of theaters even longer.
So far, Warner Bros. is sticking with the July 17 release date, but a new trailer released online in late May does not mention a specific date for a theatrical debut. And that has set off a new round of internet speculation about whether the movie will be pushed back to August or even later.
The key point is this: If Hollywood isn't releasing any big movies because of fears about the coronavirus, then theaters have little reason to reopen.
That's not to say that some theaters haven't bucked conventional wisdom. Evo Entertainment in Kyle and Santikos Entertainment in San Antonio have opened a few screens but with significant safety requirements and much-reduced capacity. But since Hollywood has stopped its new releases, they have reduced ticket prices and are showing older movies, like the Harry Potter series, "Dirty Dancing," "Grease" and some movies like "The Invisible Man" that were released just before the virus-related closures.
The Austin Film Society, which operates an art theater off of Middle Fiskville Road, is still closed, even though it's offering streaming of arthouse movies on its website, as are the Violet Crown and the Alamo Drafthouse.
A spokesperson for the AFS Cinema said that any reopening of the theater "is going to take careful consideration."
Cinemark representatives say they, like everyone else, are waiting to see what happens with the transmission of the virus as well as what Hollywood ultimately decides. Here's some of what they've compiled for what they hope will be the summer and fall seasons, although it's all subject to change:
|The Spongebob Movie||Aug. 7|
|A Quiet Place Part II||Sept. 4|
|The Conjuring||Sept. 11|
|Black Widow||Nov. 6|
|No Time to Die!||Nov. 27|
If studios keep pushing back films like "Tenet," then there will be a domino effect. And theater owners in Austin and across the country could face even more problems with rent and upkeep of properties.
Sky Cinemas in Dripping Springs has already closed—permanently. "With our business closed due to COVID and no revenue coming in, we were unable to pay our rent," the company said in a statement posted on the web in May.
Sky Cinemas was founded by Bill Banowsky, who also founded the Violet Crown Cinema in Austin, which eventually expanded to Santa Fe, N.M., and Charlottesville, Va.
"I don't think anyone knows when Hollywood will start releasing films again," Banowsky wrote in an email. "This is not a three-month problem, with the movie theater business opening up again in July and carrying on where it left off. There will be substantial lingering effects from this virus. It may take a year or more before the movie industry returns to pre-COVID levels of business."
About half of U.S. theaters operating under the Alamo Drafthouse name are franchises. And like Sky Cinemas, they're apparently feeling the economic pain.
On May 15, three Alamo franchise locations in the Phoenix area filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according to Craig Paschich, majority owner of the franchises.
In a statement issued to the news media, Paschich said he hopes the theaters will reopen eventually. "Our intention is to use this opportunity to reorganize our finances and plan for the road ahead," the statement says. "We're also currently working closely with the corporate team in Austin to determine our next steps."
Editor's note: This article has been updated with additional comment.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.