UPDATED – The Crown Uptown Theatre is, once again, for sale.
Circumstances have changed since the last time it was on the market in 2011, when a group stepped in to buy it from Karen Morris, who for 31 years ran the theater near Douglas and Hillside with her late husband, Ted.
“We wanted to keep the theater viable,” Scott Ritchie says.
He and his wife, Lisa; Ray and Diane Gans and Robert C. Park bought the business.
“We attempted and wanted to maintain the theater … primarily as a dinner theater,” Scott Ritchie says.
After three months of remodeling, the theater opened with 500 people a night to see “White Christmas.”
“We were blown away,” Ritchie says. Then, he says, “We started to realize … we needed to charge more, and we needed to be more efficient.”
Casts were big, and ticket prices couldn’t support the shows.
“They never made hardly any money at all,” Ritchie says. That’s even though, he says, “They were full, they were very entertaining, and they were very well produced.”
Ritchie says he started examining what they were doing, and he saw weddings and other events as a good source of revenue. The problem was the Crown’s calendar was too full of shows.
The Christmas 2015 show was the final dinner theater.
In 2016, the Crown had more than 20 weddings and almost 30 events, such as parties and business functions. Others now sometimes put on shows there and pay a fee to the Crown, which also gets 100 percent of bar sales.
So far this year, there have been nine events. There are 20 booked between now and July 2018.
“It’s a different model than we originally signed up for, but it’s a model that’s beginning to work,” Ritchie says. “We’ve proven the business model as a venue.”
He says people ask him why he doesn’t have more shows, such as comedians or musicians, come through.
“I’m (almost) 60. It’s not my gig.”
Ritchie says it makes sense for someone, though. He says the business is easier to manage and more stable in its current format.
He says Douglas and Hillside is experiencing something of a revival as well.
“The timing was right to let someone with more energy and maybe someone who could take the vision we moved to and make it better.”
With one wedding and one event a week, he says, “It would be a very lucrative business.”
Ritchie invests in real estate and is an oil and gas producer.
“I am a risk taker.”
However, the Crown is not like digging for oil, coming up dry and moving on to the next well, he says.
“This is a much bigger task. It’s a theater, and it’s a bar, and it’s a restaurant. There’s a lot of moving parts.”
The business and property are listed for $595,000 through Bradley Tidemann of J.P. Weigand & Sons.
The listing includes the theater at 3207 E. Douglas and an office at 3211 E. Douglas, which is leased to another business.
Also included are lighting and sound systems, stage backdrops, furniture, plates, glassware and point-of-sale and phone systems.
“It’s basically going to be turnkey,” Ritchie says.
“We believe that we are the best wedding venue in town for someone that needs 500 seats or less,” he says. “Our goal will be to find the right buyer who will honor those contracts.”
He doesn’t want people who have events booked there to worry.
“We’ll be very … picky.”