The New Parkway Speakeasy Theater has a new home.
On Friday afternoon, J Moses Ceaser, the managing partner of a small group of investors called New Parkway Entertainment, signed a 13-year lease to open a new movie theater right off Telegraph Avenue near downtown Oakland, at 474 24th Street. The new theater will employ the same concept that worked so well that previous location on the east side of Lake Merritt—cheap tickets, pizza, cold beer and room full of couches.
“We’re excited to get something done,” Ceaser said. “Exhausted, but it looks like we’re going to move forward with things.”
The New Parkway doesn’t have a name yet—Ceaser said “Parkway” will be in the name somehow, and the place will likely be called “The New Parkway”—and the plain brown building looks like a warehouse, not the two-screen movie house it will soon become. Ceaser said he likes the location—close to public transportation and in the Art Murmur area for First Fridays—and that he hopes to have the theater up and running in six to 10 months.
“I’m very hesitant to say for sure about anything,” Ceaser said of the timetable of opening the place, “because in the beginning of 2011, I wrote a note that said ‘This is the year the theater is going to open.’”
The process certainly took a lot longer than Ceaser would have liked. The lease signing completes a one-and-a-half year struggle to find a home for that concept that proved so popular at its original location, on Park Boulevard, from 1997 to 2009. The original Parkway Theater closed after the previous owners’ lease expired, and problems with the landlord arose.
Earlier this year, Ceaser and his partners began negotiating for a new lease at the Park Boulevard location, but could not come to an agreement with the landlord over managing and paying for repairs to the building, which Ceaser said would cost more than $1 million to fix. Ceaser said his group walked away from those negotiations on July 15. Ceaser than set a deadline for the end of the year to get a lease signed, or he promised to return the thousands of dollars the group had collected from the 998 backers of the Parkway’s Kickstarter campaign.
Since then, the group has been scouting other possible locations around Oakland, trying to find a building around 10,000-14,000 square feet they could convert into a movie theater. They came close to signing a lease at 2800 Broadway, but the building was sold to someone else. They also entered into negotiations with the owners of buildings at 23rd Street and Broadway, and 48th Street and Shattuck in Temescal, but “there was always some kind of deal breaker,” Ceaser said.
The landlord for the location at 23rd and Broadway wanted the Parkway group as tenants, Ceaser said, but that deal was contingent on the property not selling—its owner had previously agreed to sell the property to a developer. The Parkway group then got in touch with that developer in hopes of negotiating with them as well, in case they did buy the property and needed a tenant. In those negotiations, they leaned from a broker of the property at 474 24th Street, near Valley Street.
Ceaser said that though that building was smaller than they preferred—around 8,000 square feet—they liked the location and also that the owner knew and loved the old Parkway. Plus, since the place was smaller, the cost came at a far cheaper price than anything they had looked at before. They began negotiations last week.
Ceaser said that while the new place isn’t perfect, and the group would have preferred to reopen at the original Parkway location, they’re excited to move forward with a place that will house the concept they love.
“It’s kind of a big warehouse, and that will feel different than a big theater that was built in the 1920s,” Ceaser said. “But we’ll make up for it with better pizza. And the beer will still be cold. And we’ll have couches. When it comes down to it, people want the theater back.”