The widely anticipated reopening of the Chester 5 Theater is not going to happen, at least in the near future.
The theater, which closed June 4, was originally anticipated to open in November, in time for the Christmas season, when many of the year’s top movies are released.
One of the partners in the Chesapeake Theaters group, which was behind the plans to reopen, spoke to the Chestertown Spy in September. He said that plans were to renovate the entire interior with new, more comfortable seats, an expanded concession area offering more substantial fare. The partners also planned to work with local youth groups to hold fundraisers to benefit children. However, those plans were delayed and rumors began to circulate that the deal was falling through. Those rumors were confirmed when the Spy spoke with one of the principals last week.
Mike Klein, a partner in Chesapeake Theaters, told the Chestertown Spy that his group “was not able to negotiate a favorable lease” with the management of the Washington Square mall. “We went in in good faith,” Klein said in a Jan. 18 phone interview. He said the partners had begun work on the interior, including removal of the old seats, on the assumption that they had an agreement with the landlord. “We wouldn’t have started renovations if it wasn’t good,” he said. They have invested quite a bit of money already in the project. He and his partners have been involved in theaters in the Baltimore area, though this would have been a separate venture, he said.
Klein said the landlord, Silicato Development of Millsboro, Delaware, made modifications in the terms of the final lease that they had not discussed in their initial negotiations. The added terms would have made it too difficult to make a go of the theater. He said all negotiations with the landlord have stopped as of January. and he does not expect the theater project to go forward. However, he said, if Silicato Development reached out to them, they would be willing to re-examine the situation.
The partners also would be open to the possibility of an alternate location, Klein said, but the property needs to be suitable for the purpose. He said they would need at least 20,000 square feet, with ceilings high enough for a movie screen, and a rent that fell within their budget.
Klein said he met with Kay MacIntosh and Jamie Williams, the economic development coordinators for Chestertown and Kent County, respectively, to discuss ways to make the project possible, including the possibility of other sites, but he was unable to find anything that solved the problems.
MacIntosh said on Tuesday that she had discussed incentives related to the Enterprise Zone, a state-designated area where tax benefits are available for new or revived businesses. The benefits include possible abatement of state property taxes for renovated properties and income tax benefits for businesses hiring a certain number of new employees, she said. A possible waiver of a state tax on movie theater tickets was also discussed, although that would require the approval of the town council. Discussions of those incentives never got past the talking stage, she said. But, McIntosh said, she and Williams were very disappointed about the stalemate and would be willing to work again with Chesapeake Theaters or any other parties interested in re-opening the movie theater.
Klein said he was disappointed at the failure of the project to get past the starting line. He and his partner had come in good faith and they have already invested a good deal of money on the project. He said he spent some time in town, talked to people, and ate at the Fish Whistle. He found people in Chestertown were friendly and welcoming and enthusiastic about the possible reopening of the movies. This was the kind of town, he said, that they were attracted to and had hoped to open a movie theater in.
The representative of Silicato Development familiar with negotiations on the theater was on vacation and unavailable for comment until early next week. We hope to speak with the Silicato representative in the near future.