A Breath of Hope for the AVALON?

posted by JimRankin on February 3, 2005 at 7:01 am

MILWAUKEE, WI —

According to OnMilwaukee.com, Milwaukee’s long-closed AVALON Theatre of 1929 “may” become a combination movie house/book store.

Let us hope that this is a breath of real hope for our beloved AVALON Theatre. There have been many hopes dashed and failures noted in the past, we can only hope that it will be different this time. The owner has played disingenuously with potential buyers in the past, according to sources, but perhaps he is now realizing a combined purchasing power that may be able to meet his reportedly stiff price.

The owner of the ROSEBUD cinema did approach Mr. Ellsworth to purchase, but the reported one million plus price was out of his reach, and that of most others. This is the reason that he is opening a block farther south in the old Kohl’s food store and will share that space with a new branch of Outpost Foods. We all wish him well there, I’m sure.

Several people have wondered why the people of Bay View don’t reach out and collectively buy the theatre. That sounds like a nice idea, but it requires sound business sense and experience to run it as a movie house in a day when few single screen cinemas succeed. No one with that experience has stepped forward to offer to run the place assuming it is bought by someone intent on runnint it as a movie house. The current owner, architect Craig Ellsworth, did try to change it to a live performance venue, providing that the city granted him a beer/liquor license, but that was refused 3 times already, partially due to the concerns of neighbors that it would become a hangout for ‘DODs’ (Drunk and Disorderlies, as the cops put it). Could a new owner get the license? Possibly, but that does not solve the parking question that filling the thousand plus seats would bring. Yes, people elsewhere are accustomed to walking a distance from their cars, but not so in Milw. For this reason, the neighborhood merchants must largely rely upon locals for patronage. Is there enough there to keep a movie house afloat? Let’s hope the new ROSEBUD SOUTH proves so.

For those who ask about the former WARNER (now the closed GRAND) downtown, the situation is that the Symphony cannot now afford to purchase and rehab it as needed. Marcus theatres has almost 20 years remaining on the lease which requires them to maintain it in good condition. The owners of the land under the theatre are keeping a close eye on the situation, and have shown the site to several prospects that would use it in an entertainment vein, but as a “Business Journal” article of July 1st, 1995 brought out after the then double cinemas closed, said, it is really too big for most groups, yet too small for other developments. It was an ideal size in 1931 when this beautiful movie palace was created, but times have changed, and even with two screens (and no parking) it could not pay its way. Marcus must pay about $30,000 a year in combined taxes, not including some heat and power, so it is not cheap to let it sit idle, but one wonders what will become of it years from now when they no longer pay those bills. This lesson is not lost on prospective buyers of the AVALON, since they can’t and don’t want to end up paying upkeep for a relic, no matter how attractive or nostalgic it may be. Our PABST, RIVERSIDE and ORIENTAL appear to be ‘saved,’ but in fact they also skid by on thin ice. Most people give words of encouragement to potential owners/operators of these former movie palaces, but will they also contribute their funds in the form of REGULAR patronage, or is it easier to stay home and pop in a DVD?

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