Despite earlier optimism from a group hell-bent on reopening Oakland’s revered theater, things aren’t looking too hot for the Parkway. At a community meeting last night at Rooz Café, just a few doors down from the theater on Park Boulevard, The New Parkway’s J. Moses Ceaser shared the awful truth: Lease negotiations with building owner Yan Cheng have stalled in recent weeks, even backpedaled. “Every day that passes, I’m a bit more pessimistic about us getting a lease,” he told the assembled crowd of about thirty investors and community members, many of whom lived nearby in the Eastlake neighborhood.
Quite how it happened — or didn’t, as it were — was the subject of much conjecture. Councilwoman Pat Kernighan, who has been active in various negotiations around the theater since its closure in early 2009, was also present and expressed frustration that a deal had yet to be reached. She pledged her support to Ceaser and his effort to reopen the theater, and suggested that Mayor Jean Quan would also be getting involved. Given the city’s clear interest in seeing the theater reopen, one community member broached the topic of eminent domain; Kernighan, however, dismissed it as too time-consuming, costly, and potentially unpopular to be worth considering.
There is, of course, another, perhaps unhappier option: reopen a new theater in the Parkway’s image elsewhere in Oakland. Ceaser explained that he had recently submitted a lease offer on the former Omni Club at 48th Street and Shattuck Avenue in Temescal, and that he was also looking at numerous potential sites in auto showrooms and warehouses along Broadway Auto Row in Uptown. And he’s serious about pursuing them: Two weeks ago, he gave a firm deadline to Mr. Cheng calling for a signed lease by the end of January. With only eleven days left in the month, Ceaser has yet to hear a word.
“There’s no communication, and we are in a state of limbo,” Ceaser said. Yet his venture already has most of the money it needs, and is riding on a wave of enthusiasm and public interest (1,700 people on the email listserv, for example) that he doesn’t want to lose. Plus there’s his goal of reopening the Parkway — somewhere, anywhere — by the end of 2011, and preferably by summer. “It’s very possible that it will move to another Oakland location,” he said. “I know that breaks people’s hearts, and I’m sorry about that.”