The Liberty Theatre in downtown Camas is expected to get a new lease on life this summer — with 3D presentations on the main screen and an ice cream shop next door.
Rand Thornsley, managing director of The Rootstock Capital Management LLC, has signed a five-year lease with Gary and Marilyn Webberley, owners of the Liberty building through Fourth Avenue Liberty LLC.
The theater is located at 315 N.E. Fourth Ave.
The new lease is the result of six months of negotiations between the Liberty’s management and the building’s owners.
“The original lease was two years into the five-year lease term, and we renegotiated it for another five years,” said Greg Goforth, a commercial real estate broker representing both parties for Coldwell Banker Commercial, Jenkins & Associates.
Thornsley actively lobbied the state legislature to get beer and wine sales approved for independent theaters to help seal the deal.
“Getting the legislation approved was a key element and could not have happened without the support of Camas Mayor Scott Higgins and the Downtown Camas Association,” Thornsley said.
Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign legislation today that clears the way for the theater’s beer and wine sales. It will be up to the Washington Liquor Control Board to establish the rules and management.
Thornsley hopes to apply for the license in June and start serving beer and wine by Oct. 1. After Rep. Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver) sponsored House Bill 1001 at the start of the legislative session, the process wound through committee hearings.
“With the help of Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center), we were able to get the legislation to the Senate floor and on to the Governor,” Thornsley said.
The initial plan will be to serve beer and wine in a 21 and older setting in the main theater’s balcony and in the Granada Studio. If there is more demand than those two areas are capable of offering, service will be added to a cordoned off section of the main auditorium at a later date, pending Liquor Control Board approval.
To support the purchase of new digital projection equipment for the two Liberty auditoriums — a cost exceeding $110,000 — additional revenues were required in order to commit to a repayment plan.
With the addition of beer and wine sales for the adult patrons, the Liberty management was able to draft a financial plan that would make it possible for a five-year rent commitment that allows the building’s owners a return on their investment for the new equipment.
The Webberleys have put up the funds to buy the equipment, and Rootstock will repay the investment. The new equipment is scheduled to be installed at the end of this month.
Thornsley said the new projection system had to happen.
“Film studios are phasing out the distribution of 35 mm film prints,” he said. “Over 80 percent of the country’s theater screens have already switched to the new digital technology. Most of the larger theaters operated by corporate chains and some independents were able to get the new equipment with subsidies from the studios.
“Unfortunately, the Liberty and many other theaters in small communities didn’t have a qualified business plan or produce enough revenue to receive those subsidies,” Thornsley added.
He plans to have a new silver screen and RealD technology installed in early June, and he hopes to have a selection of 3D showings on screen by June 14. Films that have not been available on 35 mm film will now be able to be shown at the Liberty as well.
The new equipment includes new, upgraded sound systems for the Liberty and Granada screens.
“The 2K digital picture is very crisp and always in focus with even lighting from side to side,” Thornsley said. “There is no moving film to get scratched, so every showing is as good as the first.”
He plans to open up the former coffee shop space in front of the theater in July. It will feature 16 flavors of hand-dipped ice cream, as well as sandwiches, wraps and salads. Food served in the new storefront will be allowed into the theater.
The 350-seat Liberty Theatre was built in 1927 and restored in 1996 after a fire gutted the interior two years earlier. Renovations and upgrades were overseen in 2011 by Thornsley.
For more information, call 859-9555 or visit www.camasliberty.com.