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Angelika Theater

The Sundance Theater deal

When Sundance Theaters announced it would take the place of the Angelika downtown, everyone was happy. The deal that their landlord is getting to make way for them is not quite as joy-inducing.

Sundance Cinemas negotiated a lease earlier this year for the space formerly occupied by the Angelika Film Center in Bayou Place. The city, through the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, agreed to reimburse up to $750,000 of the $2.3 million renovation now under way.

Sundance is to repay the authority, which reinvests some taxes collected from downtown property owners into the area, through “percentage rent” payments based on the theater’s annual sales. But a similar agreement to redevelop an old firehouse into the Downtown Aquarium restaurant and entertainment complex hasn’t yielded any such payments.


Under an agreement between the city and Baltimore-based Cordish Co. — which leases Bayou Place from the city and is Sundance’s landlord — Sundance will pay the city 10 percent of annual revenue over $3.5 million. The percentage increases if annual revenue exceeds $5 million.

Like the arrangement with Landry’s, an earlier percentage rent deal with Cordish has failed to produce revenue for the city.

In developing Bayou Place, formerly a convention center, the city required Cordish to pay $50,000 in rent plus 25 percent of gross revenue — but only after Cordish covers its expenses.

In the 14 years it has operated Bayou Place, Cordish never has paid the 25 percent because of its investments in building out the Hard Rock Cafe and other improvements offset revenue.


Steven Craig, an economics professor at the University of Houston, said the deals make sense if they draw businesses or consumers from out of town but not if they simply displace business from one part of town to another.

“If we didn’t build the Aquarium or a movie theater downtown, would people still get entertained in Houston? Yes. You’re not really importing business,” he said. “You’re just relocating money from one part of town to another.”

Craig is essentially making the Andrew Zimbalist argument about public financing for sports stadia on a smaller scale. I see where he’s coming from and can’t really argue the point, but I can see why the city might be interested in ensuring that an entertainment development adjacent to the Theater District remains viable. Whether they did a better job negotiating a deal that might actually pay them something for their investment is another question.

Sundance Cinema to replace Angelika

Downtown is once again safe for arthouse movies. From the Mayor’s office:

Mayor Annise Parker and David Cordish, Chairman of the Cordish Companies, have announced that Robert Redford’s Sundance Cinema will open in Bayou Place in the heart of Houston’s downtown theater district. Sundance Cinemas Houston will feature specialized film programming, playing the finest movies for a discerning audience culled from film festivals and the best in general release. The venue will offer drinking and dining choices, all reserved seating, digital stereo sound and presentation, filmmaker screenings and exclusive events, plus free parking for patrons and community events. In fact, community events will mark the opening celebrations when the theatre opens on the first of November, just in time for the holiday season.

“Houston is very lucky to be chosen by one of the most sought-after theater operators in the country,” said Mayor Parker. “I want to thank Ed Wulfe, chairman of Wulfe and Co., for his pro-bono efforts to help make this happen. Sundance’s investment in Houston and Bayou Place is another validation of the ever-increasing strength and vitality of our downtown. This location will provide movie options for a large underserved area. We look forward to years of world-class cinema to follow.”


Sundance Cinema will occupy space abandoned by Angelika Theater last fall. It is anticipated that improvements to the 36,000 square-foot space will cost $2.250 million.

According to Swamplot, the target date for Sundance to open is November 1, a year and two months after the Agelika closed its doors. I have no idea how the “reserved seating” thing is gonna work. Prime Property, CultureMap, and the Chron story have more.

Angelika says it’s looking for another location in Houston

The Chron notes that the relationship between the Angelika Theater and its landlord had deteriorated considerably.

Angelika’s landlord, Bayou Place Limited Partnership, filed suit more than a week ago claiming the cinema was threatening to remove equipment from the theater if it did not receive a new lease.

The landlord’s petition outlines a situation dating to 2007, when the theater’s first 10-year lease expired. It did not exercise an option to renew for another 10 years.

The Angelika – also called Bayou Cinemas in the petition – continued as a month-to-month tenant at reduce rent, according to the petition.

Bayou Place and the Angelika continued discussions on a new lease, even as the landlord, an affiliate of the Cordish Co., sought a tenant that would enter into a long-term lease for a cinema.

But during a meeting, according to the petition, a principal of Bayou Cinemas threatened to remove equipment if the parties couldn’t reach a deal. Based on the initial lease agreement, the property belongs to the landlord, the petition claims.

That story and this CultureMap blurb say that Angelika is looking for another Houston location. Clifford Pugh, who thought downtown was a bad fit for the Angelika theater, suggests some possible replacements for it at that location.

The only way for a downtown art house to survive is to offer the affluent moviegoing audience something they can’t find elsewhere. A unique movie and a unique moviegoing experience.

Alamo Drafthouse or Studio Movie Grill are logical replacement choices because they have married a food-and-beverage experience with the movies and have achieved spectacular results in the Houston suburbs. The Angelika has a full kitchen, but the theaters would have to reconfigured for a premium moviegoing experience. It’s gonna cost some bucks to do that because it will almost be like starting from scratch.

Alamo spokeswoman Lacy Smythe Edmundson won’t confirm rumors that the Austin-based theater chain is looking at the Angelika space. “At this time we are looking to explore inside-the-Loop and are exploring different possibilities,” she said.

Sundance Cinemas, a small chain affiliated with Robert Redford’s film project, and Sunrise Cinemas, a 58-screen Florida chain that specializes in independent films and hosts The Miami Jewish Film Festival, France Cinema Floride, The Israel Film Festival and The Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Film Festival are also rumored to be looking at the Angelika space. Other possibilities: Landmark, which owns the River Oaks Theatre, and the California-based ArcLight cinema chain.

In a vaguely worded statement Gary Rhodes, general manager of Bayou Place Limited Partnership, said, “We will be upgrading Angelika with an operator of the highest quality and we will be making the announcement shortly.”

We’ll see what happens. Where else do you think would be a good location for the Angelika? Leave a comment and let us know. Swamplot has more.

Angelika Theater closes


“After 13 years of continued service to the Houston community, the Angelika’s lease has been terminated by the Angelika’s landlord….”

No word yet as to whether the Angelika, one of a global group of affiliated theaters, will reopen outside of the Bayou Place location downtown.

As one commenter said, “Houston, a city of 5+ million, only has 1 independent/alternative theater now?” That’s just wrong. Hey, if the Alamo Drafthouse doesn’t move into the Alabama Theater, maybe the Angelika can. Can’t hurt to ask about it, that’s all I know. CultureMap has more.