By DANIEL KITTREDGE A new chapter in the storied history of the Park Theatre is in the works. Ed Brady and Jeff Quinlan, whose Dig In Dining restaurant group includes the Thirsty Beaver and other establishments in the area, are eying the local landmark
A new chapter in the storied history of the Park Theatre is in the works.
Ed Brady and Jeff Quinlan, whose Dig In Dining restaurant group includes the Thirsty Beaver and other establishments in the area, are eying the local landmark at the intersection of Pontiac and Park avenues as the home of a new performing arts venue with additional components.
Brady, who stepped down from the City Council in August, told the Herald last week that while the acquisition of the theater remains in progress, he and Quinlan had a “very exciting vision for the space.”
“I saw that there were no viable buyers and it was up for auction … “I couldn’t let it go,” he said, adding: “It means so much to me … It’s a beautiful building. I want to see it remain as a theater, music, arts venue.”
Reached Monday, the property’s current owner, Pi Patel – who invested millions into the revitalization of the property ahead of its 2009 reopening as the Rhode Island Center for the Arts – echoed Brady’s sentiment.
“My main emphasis was to keep it as a theater … I feel happy that they’re going to continue to use it the way I wanted it,” he said.
Generations of Cranstonians and Rhode Islanders remember the Park’s heyday as a cinema, which operated in different forms from the 1920s through 2002. For many local residents, the Park was the first place they saw a movie on the big screen. In 2009, when the theater opened under Patel’s ownership, then-Mayor Allan Fung spoke of seeing “Star Wars” there in the 1970s during his first trip to the cinema.
Patel, after he acquired the property, invested roughly $12 million to revitalize the building. A space that had been used for three movie theaters became a new auditorium for performances with a capacity of 1,150. A restaurant, lounge, banquet hall and café were also added.
The years since have brought many performances and events to the theater, but also questions about its future. In 2011, Patel told the Herald the facility was applying for nonprofit status in light of challenging economic circumstances. Then, last year, the onset of the pandemic forced the facility’s closure, part of COVID-19’s broader impact on the entertainment industry.
Since the spring, passers-by have likely noticed signs for a public auction of the Park Theatre property through Irving Shechtman & Co. Inc. They may have also noticed continual changes in the timing of the auction, which has been repeatedly pushed back.
During an interview Monday, Mayor Ken Hopkins said his administration’s “biggest influence” on the theater’s future has been working with Patel to delay the auction as efforts continued to find a buyer who would maintain its use as an arts venue. He envisions the theater’s next iteration as a “cornerstone of Rolfe Square,” which recently underwent a significant improvement project.
Brady said he and Quinlan imagine various components for the theater complex – a café, a VIP bar, even a podcast studio.
“We’ve talked to many different brands,” Brady said. He also said plans call for the new operation to include a “big charity component.”
The theater itself, of course, is at the center of their concept for the space. Brady said he hopes to leverage his connections to the entertainment industry and Rhode Island’s growing reputation a place that is attractive for television and film production – “Rhodywood,” as he put it – to burnish the facility’s appeal.
“I think the Cranston community will be very pleased,” he said, adding that he wants to leave “a little mystery” around the future plans for the Park.
He added: “One thing I want everyone to know is I absolutely love calling Cranston, Rhode Island, my home, and I’m beyond proud of the city we all call home. This next chapter is going to be a little magical. We all just have to dream.”
City property records show the 2021 assessed value of 848 Park Ave., the theater facility’s address, as $112,800 for the land and nearly $3.3 million for the improvements, for a total of $3,411,500. The tax bill for the property is $92,110.
“So far,” Patel said, “everything is going well” in terms of the sale. An inspection of the building – which has not been actively used during the pandemic, but has been maintained – found it to be in a “very, very solid state,” he said.
Patel and Brady both said a purchase agreement has been reached and the hope is for the transaction to close in November, although several prerequisites remain, including finalizing financing and securing the transfer of the facility’s liquor license.
“I think they’re qualified buyers … I’m quite optimistic that they can close the deal,” Patel said of Brady and Quinlan.
Neither Patel nor Brady disclosed the price that has been agreed upon, although Patel said it is in line with the current market.
Patel also spoke highly of Hopkins and the city’s administration, which he said has been “very proactive” in working to keep the theater as an arts venue.
“They really want this theater to remain,” he said.
Brady – who recalled seeing the Beach Boys at the Park with his father in recent years – likewise spoke highly of Patel and his stewardship of the facility.
“He’s over $10M into that theater … He’s been a delight to deal with,” he said. “I know it’s very important to him that it remains a theater.”
The potential new use for the Park Theatre was confirmed publicly last week when Brady – who represented Ward 4 and served as the council’s vice president prior to his resignation – appeared before the Rhode Island Ethics Commission, asking whether he would qualify for a “hardship exception” to a provision of the state’s ethics code.
Specifically, the code prohibits former elected officials from appearing before the entity on which they served within one year of their departure.
In this case, the issue at hand involves a full liquor license for the Park Theatre, which would be transferred from the current owner to Brady and Quinlan as a condition of the sale. That transfer requires approval from the City Council’s Safety Services & Licensing Committee. Brady requested that Quinlan be allowed to appear before the council and committee on his behalf for the purpose of seeking the license transfer.
In its published response to Brady’s request, the Ethics Commission states that while it has “declined to grant a hardship exception for matters involving new commercial ventures,” it cited similar cases in other communities as providing precedent for Brady’s exemption. The commission also notes that its members were “satisfied” with Brady’s “representation that, in his experience as a member of the City Council, the transfer of a liquor license is typically a simple process and that the Petitioner cannot recall the application for a transfer of a liquor license ever being denied while he served on the Cranston City Council or the Committee.”
The commission’s advisory opinion continues, in part: “Although the Petitioner’s ownership of the property for which he seeks the liquor license transfer does not predate his appointment to public office, and the relief sought involves a new commercial venture, those factors alone are not determinative. The Ethics Commission recognizes that, under these particular circumstances, the application for the transfer of the liquor license from one Cranston business to another is substantially ministerial in nature.”
It adds: “Therefore, the Petitioner may authorize his business partner to represent him before the City Council for the purpose of seeking the transfer of the liquor license in connection with the sale of the Park Theatre. The Petitioner is held to his representation that he will not attend the hearing at which said application will be considered and is advised not to contact any member of the City Council concerning his application.”
Brady, who had served on the City Council since 2018, said he would consider a return to politics at some point in the future.
“Right now, this was just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it’s going to take all of my time,” he said.
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