By GWEN OREL
The Bellevue theater closed on a Sunday.
On Monday, television and film producer Luke Parker Bowles and Hollywood actor Patrick Wilson were already meeting to figure out what they could do.
Both Montclair residents were upset, said Parker Bowles, who has lived in town about seven years. Parker Bowles is also on the board of Montclair Film, and Wilson is on the advisory board. “We were in complete shock, we wanted to talk it out with each other,” he said. Wilson came to him to say, “you’ve heard about the Bellevue.”
Parker Bowles said with a laugh, “I still have the front page” of the Montclair Local that week.
Wilson told Parker Bowles that Vincent Onorati, a Montclair resident, former vp of marketing at In Demand, a cable VOD distributor, and owner of two independent bookstores, had been talking to him about it also. The movie theater closed in November.
They quickly formed a triumvirate and an LLC, titled Highgate Hall LLC, after the name of the bar that was in the Bellevue in the 1930s, and began planning to reopen the cinema with a bar, coffee shop and restaurant. Parker Bowles said they expect to sign a lease very soon, maybe even next week and then begin the process of all the due diligence: inspections, approvals, design.
“The owner is very excited about our proposal,” he said. Jesse Sayegh, Parker Bowles said, “can see our passion, and the fact that we have the acumen and contacts and eagerness to make this something.”
If everything goes on schedule, optimistically, the new place could be open by 2019.
Parker Bowles said he had been working on putting a pub in the Watchung Plaza train station, but when he heard about the Bellevue, putting something there seemed much more urgent.
“We talked about what we were missing in our lives as parents,” he said. With the Bellevue closing, not only had the Montclair Film Festival lost four venues, but parents lost an opportunity to do something with kids on the weekend.
“And it was very clear, without being dramatic, that a beating heart of Montclair had disappeared.” So, he said, going into this was a “no brainer.”
A few restaurants are already vying for position, he said. At the new Bellevue, while people will be able to eat in the movie, they will have food delivered during the trailer, and not have it interrupt the film, as it does in other venues.
Making the Bellevue what he calls a “hub of energy” is also a solid business idea, he said: “in this day and age a movie theater alone cannot sustain business. Studios used to take 50 percent of ticket sales. Now its starting to be 65 percent.
“As a film producer this is completely tragic to me. To Patrick as an actor it’s completely tragic. Who’s to say it wont go to 80? Let’s get ahead of the game. I’m thinking five years in the future. We won’t put our names to something that’s going to fail. Life’s too short, we don’t want to disappoint the community. We get one shot at this.”
The new venue will be a place where people can check their emails, write in their journals, meet friends, have dinner, he said.
Where the posters are outside will be glass, embossed, with the name of the venue. The awning will be rejuvenated.
People will by and say “I want to go in there,” Parker Bowles said.
And because the Bellevue was important to the town, investors have been contacting him to say “I’m in.” Parker Bowles said that it’s philanthropic, and also “a smart place to put their money.”
Bowtie took out all the seats when they left, as well as the screens and projects, and made it “so it is not a movie theater anymore.” He and his team will buy and install new ones, so it won’t have to be done again for 15 years.
“A lot of Montclair craftsmen will be involved in this. It’s very important to us,” he said.
The team has five meetings coming up just next week: “We are so proud of our little town in Montclair. We are going to do this right, with delicate fingers, not with jackhammers.