The Ridglea Theater dream has not died. It has merely changed shape.
Ever since Jerry Shults, owner of the Gas Pipe regional chain of smoke shops, purchased the historic Westside venue, saving it from becoming a bank, North Texas music lovers’ heads have been filled with dreams of a Granada West, a Fort Worth version of Dallas’ beautiful, historic Granada Theater, the site of shows by some of the world’s most progressive and important musical artists.
And while maybe one day the Ridglea’s stage will be trod upon by the likes of Bob Dylan and Beck, don’t hold your breath.
“I can see a lot of the theater’s shows being community-based fundraisers for the boys’ and girls’ clubs” and similar organizations, Shults said. “That’s what’s best for the theater, to plug into fundraisers for the community.”
Private events will also figure prominently into the Ridglea’s mission. “I’m being inundated with weddings and different social events,” Shults said. “The corporate events: I’ve started to get a lot more inquiries.”
The theater, he said, needs to be “very flexible and very functional –– that’s what we keep going back to: How can this venue stand the test of time and be a functional part of the community?”
Shults, an admitted music-venue novice, hasn’t killed the Granada West vision. In addition to the 1,400-people-capacity theater, the Ridglea complex includes two prime adjacent spaces: One can hold about 100 people and the other about 300. Based on the outcomes of performances in both rooms, Shults will adjust his plans for the theater stage accordingly.
The 100-person room, the Ridglea Bar, should be open “in a few weeks,” Shults said. The other room, Stage Right –– “the Lola’s venue,” Shults said, referencing the popular West 7th venue –– will open not long afterward, preceding by a couple of months the opening of Ridglea Theater proper.
“To do a 1,400 major theater –– that’s almost double the size of the Granada –– to get an act in there to pull 1,400 is not really viable, particularly with entertainment dollars being what they are,” Shults said. “The entertainment industry is not doing what I’d say super-duper these days. I’d rather take risks on venues of 100 and 300 at the beginning before I take a larger risk. I don’t know a lot of about live music venues, and I want to learn about smaller venues first before I go with larger venues. I want to make sure that the Ridglea Bar and Stage Right are doing something special before we start doing acts at main theater.”
The 300-person room was supposed to be a second iteration of The Moon, a popular and now-shuttered TCU-area bar-bar/venue whose fate had been up in the air as a result of some parking issues raised by Westside councilman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman and whose fate is now sealed after the city’s zoning commission approved a zoning change prohibiting bar-bars from the stretch of Camp Bowie Boulevard on which the Ridglea sits. “With everything that everybody’s saying today on Facebook and online, Zim has been very helpful in this process, and he’s very sympathetic to what I’m going through,” Moon owner Chris Maunder said. “I’m fine. The Moon’s still going to happen. People need to ease up on Zim.”
Maunder is currently “looking at new locations,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that things didn’t work out [at the Ridglea], but things are still moving forward and progressing nicely.”
City council will vote on the change on Tuesday, Mar. 6.
Neither parking nor bar-bars is an issue to Shults, who plans on serving food at the Ridglea complex and who also takes comfort in the fact that his complex is on the National Register of Historic Places, which means that he does not have to provide a minimum number of parking spaces per square foot –– unlike owners of non-historic buildings. “I already have a complete variance for parking for our registry status,” he said. “And, gosh, there’s so much parking in that area” –– not including the sea of spaces behind the theater, owned by real estate developer Michel Mallick.
Not long after Shults bought the complex, he engaged in discussions with Mallick over that parking area. “Mallick mentioned a price that was OK,” Shults recalled. “But then Zim got into picture, and the price skyrocketed.”
Shults said he couldn’t care less about Mallick’s spots now. “I would not say a deal is not going to be reached,” Shults said, “but I don’t need his parking right now.”
Shults is satisfied that his overall mission is complete. “I’m very proud about saving [the theater],” he said. “That was my goal. Money? That’s immaterial. I just want to ensure the longevity of the theater.
“The goal, really,” he continued, “was to make sure [the theater] didn’t get torn down, and that’s what my main goal is: to make sure it never gets torn down.”