The presumed new owner of the Rosebud and Times theaters says his intention is to reopen the movie houses as soon as practically possible and to continue to run them in the formats they had established.
Lee Barczak on Monday was the successful bidder for the theaters in a sheriff's foreclosure sale, outbidding mortgage-holder AnchorBank. That purchase is subject to a confirmation hearing June 11.
"Assuming the sale is confirmed, as we expect it to be, my desire is to get both theaters open as soon as possible, and doing what they did," Barczak said Tuesday. "First-run, second-run and classics."
Barczak said he expected that the division of those formats between the two would remain as it was, with first-run movies showing at the Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse.
"There's no sense in changing that format out of the chute," he said. "I think the people in that neighborhood on North Avenue have come to enjoy it, and my goal would be only to enhance what they enjoyed before."
Barczak is founder and president of the Greendale-based financial planning firm Morgan Kenwood Advisors and is also a longtime investor in real estate.
Barczak's timeline for reopening the theaters is not defined yet, but he's begun laying the groundwork.
"There's the pleasant surprise of being the successful bidder," he said. "But at first, there wasn't much I could do in terms of planning because I wasn't sure I would have the buildings.
"As far as the timeline goes, that'll be determined by the process. We have to get the sale confirmed and take deed.
"Then there's a few minor details such as 'Will we have films to show?'
"My dream would be that we would reopen this summer."
Starting over on film rights
When former owner David Glazer announced in February that he would be closing the theaters, AnchorBank and the properties' receiver, Siegel-Gallagher, quickly said that the theaters would shut down only very briefly, if at all.
The plan was to put the theaters under the management of Jay Hollis, who had previously owned them and established the first-run, drafthouse theme at the Rosebud. The expectation was that contracts with film distributors would remain in place, allowing a fairly seamless transition.
That was, according to Rusty Long, attorney for the holders, "wishful thinking."
Barczak said that under new ownership, new contracts will have to be negotiated, and he's begun that process.
"I've got people looking into it," he said. "We're in communication with about a dozen different distributors.
"We really want to have the best to offer. You want to open with a bang, not a thud.
"We need to get the right management team in there, start hiring people, maybe rehire some people who were there before. I think the theaters were successful as they were. We'll be looking for people to help make them even better."
Avalon delay is an admitted sore point
Barczak acknowledged that he's come under a lot of fire as the owner of the Avalon Theater in Bay View, which he bought nearly seven years ago and has yet to reopen.
"I understand people's concerns, and I'm not happy either," Barczak said. "But it's a very different situation.
"First, it was a huge undertaking. After purchasing the property, we came in with a $6 million plan that coincided with the collapse of real estate banking. It was impossible to get a loan to do what we wanted to do."
Barczak recalled one meeting with a bank loan officer that illustrates his frustration.
"I sat down," Barczak said, "and he said, 'First, I should tell you that we have no interest in making this loan.'
"That was a very short meeting."
Barczak's $6 million plan for the Avalon was a complete, high-concept makeover – something he's now had to scale back.
By contrast, the Rosebud and Times are essentially in the form he wants them to be. He offered $275,000 for the Rosebud, 6823 W. North Ave., and $265,000 for the Times, 5906 W. Vliet St.
"I hope people will understand, I did not buy them to let them sit vacant," Barczak said. "People want things to be done quickly, and I agree, but as a businessman you have to do the sensible thing."
Barczak said that he knows he's had plenty of detractors because of the Avalon and that fears for the Rosebud and Times will only be laid to rest with a successful and timely reopening.
"One of my hopes is that with these purchases and the relationships we can now build with (film) distributors, that could help us out with the Avalon. There could be a synergy with those three theaters."
A lifelong interest in film and theaters
Barczak's interest in the theaters dates back to his youth when, he said, he went to shows at each of them many times. His interest in film in general, and in seeing films in classic settings, dates even further.
"It goes back to the time in my childhood when my mom used to take us to the Paradise Theater in West Allis," he said. "Then we started going to the Modjeska, the Grenada – as a kid sitting in Saturday matinees, that get ingrained in you, those old theaters.
"Later, on my own, I would go to the Oriental and the Downer, and they had this grandeur.
"All of that to me is part and parcel of movies and what they mean to us," Barczak said. "There's still something about going to the theater and sitting with other people, hearing each other laugh together, gasp together.
"Certainly, going to a Marcus theater with surround sound is a great experience. But there's room for both.
"Going to a classic movie house, it's a different experience. It's something that we need to continue to cherish."