* Note: update (4/20/15) at bottom; currently, there will be no change in ownership
The Bob White Theatre has existed in a state of limbo for nearly three years. For it was in 2012 that Nick Storie purchased the then-closed theater and offered a vision for the community to rally around—movies, concerts, neighborhood-driven events, and a place to jumpstart Foster’s inevitable rejuvenation. That hope only lasted so long, though, as it soon became apparent that running a theater—booking acts, promoting events, managing operations—was not Mr. Storie’s forte. And this didn’t even take into account the considerable financial needs of the building to pass fire code and meet safety needs—all a very large investment in addition to the building’s purchase. So while Storie’s hopes were great, it wasn’t something that easily came to fruition.
It was no wonder, then, that excitement for The Bob White’s rebirth quickly diminished. And after a few successful shows became outnumbered by less successful ones, as well as a revolving door of promoters and managers, the theater offered more question marks than signs of hope. But through the ups and downs, the rotating cast of characters, and Nick Storie’s attempts to sell the building after it proved to be too overwhelming, one act has remained: Nick Haas, the soon-to-be new owner of The Bob White. And while much still remains to be seen, the current hope for theatre’s rebirth now rests on another Nick’s shoulders. And thus may end the state of limbo. If all goes according to plan, February 27th will mark the official changing of the guard; the Nick Storie era will give way to the Nick Haas era, and so will end the latter’s grind-it-out, learn-on-the-fly, and wait-and-see approach to taking over the theater. Haas first took over the theater’s management duties nearly a year ago, and since then he’s moved the ball along in his attempt to take the theater off Storie’s hands. To make the theater profitable while he waited, there have been concerts, private parties, wrestling, and a brief dabbling in movies. And while some of that has been underwhelming, the theater has still clung to life. And now that he’ll soon be able to call himself owner, Haas intends to breathe more life into it.
We were able to catch up with Haas last week, and we were given a rundown of his battle to secure financing; the challenges of dealing with deadlines, inspectors, and the seller; and his grand plan for the theater, which he exudes so much passion for. While much of the theater’s operation will remain the same over the coming months—wrestling, the occasional concert, and ‘Repo! The Genetic Opera’—there are also some significant and exciting changes in the works. With financing in place to make important and needed renovations, the first round of fix-ups and restoration will include the following: installing fire sprinklers, full HVAC overhaul, restoring the front lobby to its 1924 luster (save for an updated bar), and fixing up the marquee and frontage space. If plans become reality, a new sign blade (already contracted with the same sign company that did the Hollywood Theater) will sit atop the restored marquee. And because Nick has an appreciation for the theater’s history, expect it to look a lot like it did in the 20’s and 30’s when Foster was bustling. The 32-foot blade will shine, hopefully, sometime this spring. And the marquee beneath, in restored fashion, should make it clear what the schedule of events is. About that schedule. Tentative plans call for the theater to resume a pretty active schedule around April. At that point, movies will air on Tuesdays and Thursdays; Wednesdays will open the theater for free jam sessions; and Fridays and Saturdays will bring concerts. Movie nights will offer films covered in the Criterion Collection license, and there’s word that initial concert bookings may bring some well-known acts to the neighborhood (Rusted Root may be back, John Scofield might be booked, Scott Pemberton, and perhaps a participating venue for the Soul’d Out Music Festival?). To go along with new signage, a restored lobby, musical acts booked, and a movie license for films, a new bar will serve drinks and (per OLCC rules) “substantial” food items.
Ok, sounds like a real theater. What about the rest? After the first round of renovations—HVAC, fire sprinklers, lobby, and marquee/blade—the new lineup of movies and concerts will carry on through the summer. Sometime in late fall, the theater will shut down to conduct further upgrades. This will include re-plastering the walls and ceiling of the theater, full paint job, expanding the back wall/movie-screen, and perhaps re-upholstering all the seats (if not done sooner). Meanwhile, the Wurlitzer Warehouse will await its big overhaul, too. And even though it’ll take a backseat to the theater’s renovation, it still remains part of the larger plan. The goal for the Wurlitzer still is to become a secondary music venue, but a little more intimate. Or less formal. Maybe both. The timeline for the Wurlitzer is set for “within three years.” And with that timeline also comes plans for a full service bar and restaurant. But first thing’s first. The Bob White will soon proclaim its place in Southeast Portland’s live music scene. And with movies to please the locals, the added bonus of booze and food, and a new marquee and blade shining over Foster, maybe, just maybe, we’re realizing some of the hopes we had three years ago when Nick Storie made his bold move to buy the historic theater. * The first show under new ownership will be: Afro-World Music presents Alpha Yaya Diallo and his band Bafing.
******************************* Update: 4/20/15
From Nick Haas, as stated (unedited) on his facebook page:
“Hey All. this will be my last post for awhile given the events that have unfolded,
“Long story short, up front, Nick Storie wont except our offer, What he’s looking for is beyond my current reach and with the Portland Fire Marshall saying The Bob White Theatre does not have a dance floor, or ability to have a bar as an A1 zoned venue it can only be used for seated events. NO DANCING!! at this stage in the game I’ve given all I can and have to give. so I’ve put in my 60 days and will be leaving the Theatre and ware house I have loved and fought for behind. Sadly this means everything I have and myself need a new place and honestly I’m not sure what to do, In time something will present itself but. after 6 months of hard work, effort, new investors, and even sitting Mr Storie down and drafting an offer to exactly his like only to have something change is a really hard pill to swallow, In that time, the price has gone from 750,000 with 350,000 down holding the note for 5 years to 850,000 straigth out (which we met and offered) only to have it go to 450,000 for just the theatre and him keeping the warehouse. The theatre as it sits needs a complete seismic upgrade, a rezoning to A2, fire sprinklers, HVAC, paint, all totaling close to a million dollars after purchase. its just to much for us to give him a full price offer. but thats what he wants and I just can’t make it happen, So, Sorry I couldn’t pull it of Portland, Foster Powell, our community, I gave it everything I had. I hope the best for this place and its future, maybe who ever buys it will bring me on as manager. As for now, The dream is gone. Thanks to all who supported and shared my dream. you made the last year a blast. until the next time I see ya, take care.”