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Fine Arts Theater building is officially for sale

The iconic blue and red Fine Arts sign on the west side of the Square will be lit up again soon. 

The lights will be part of a marketing overhaul by Axis Realty Group to sell the Fine Arts Theater building. Other recent changes include the new "for sale" sign on the marquee and the removal of butcher paper from the glass entry doors. The company officially listed the building for sale Friday.

It's been more than 30 years since the property was in regular use as a second-run dollar movie theater. Since then, it's hosted various church functions but has been vacant since 2014. 

The McBride family has owned the property since 1985. They were in talks with local developer John "Sparky" Pearson, but a family death put the property into probate court so the deal fell through. 

Alex Payne, owner of Axis Realty Group and one of the listing agents for the building, said his goal is to get the McBride family the best deal, hopefully from someone who wants to reopen a theater.

"It has a lot of deferred maintenance and it's likely going to be a labor of love," Payne said. "There's easier ways to make a dollar than restoring a turn-of-the-century theater, but we're hoping someone has the desire and capital to do so."

Alex Payne, left, and Brad Andrus with Axis Realty Group pose for a photo in front of the Fine Arts Theater on Denton's downtown Square.  The building was recently listed for sale by Axis Realty Group. DRC
Alex Payne, left, and Brad Andrus with Axis Realty Group pose for a photo in front of the Fine Arts Theater on Denton's downtown Square. The building was recently listed for sale by Axis Realty Group. 

The sale process for the building will be a little nontraditional. For the next five weeks, Payne and Brad Andrus will let interested parties tour the building, and even bring in their own contractors to get estimates for what it would take to fix the building. They haven't put a price on the building and don't intend to, and won't look at any offers until December. 

"It's our goal to expose it to as wide an audience as possible, then we'll do a call for offers in early December," Payne said. "It will be a process to garner enough interest and for them to do their homework on it before they make an offer." 

From there, they'll pick an offer and the sale should be completed by February.

They've already given some tours of the building, and have an appointment next week with a group that restored a historic theater in Dallas. 

The property, which was originally a furniture store, was built in 1890 and has 10,880 square feet. In 1935, it became the Texas Theater. It was renamed the Fine Arts Theater in 1957 and operated until 1981. The interior has a lobby area and main seating area for the theater, and a mezzanine that hasn't been usable since a 1982 fire. There's also a small third-floor balcony, the same size as the mezzanine. 

Roman McAllen, the city's historic preservation officer, said if the buyer restores the building, they would get major state and federal incentives. Between two historic preservation programs, the owner would stand to get back 45 percent of their investment in the form of tax credits. 

Locals are rooting for this plan. John Cartwright, whose restaurant Cartwright's Ranch House sits next to the theater, says he hopes to see the marquee lit up for good. The west side of the Square hasn't seen the same level of renovation as other sides, and downtown could use a new cultural element.

"I hope a single-screen movie house or live music venue, or a combination of them both, could go there," Cartwright said. "We're excited as their neighbor, but I'm more excited for Denton." 

His sentiments echo ones of other businesses around downtown, said Glen Farris, president of the Denton Main Street Association. People really, really want it to be a theater again. 

"It's the centerpiece of the west side of the Square," Farris said. "It's one of the properties that people have been waiting forever to see developed and used to its capacity. It's a beautiful building and ought to be preserved."

If the building does not continue as a theater, there's no requirement that the buyer has to maintain the theater's facade because the building itself is not a historic landmark, McAllen said. It seems unlikely that someone with an interest in the building would want to change the exterior, though, he said. 

When potential buyers submit their offers in December, they can also attach the intended use so the McBride family can use that as a factor in their decision making, Payne said. 

"It's our objective to represent the seller and bring them the most money possible at the best terms, and my real hope is to accomplish that goal while bringing someone to the property that imagines great things for it and brings it back to its former glory," he said. 

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889.

FEATURED PHOTO: The Fine Arts Theater on the downtown Square in Denton was recently put up for sale by Axis Realty Group. Jake King/DRC