By GWEN OREL
The fate of the Bellevue Theatre, 268 Bellevue Ave., is “a little amorphous,” according to Andrew Cifelli, lawyer for Bellevue owner Jesse Y. Sayegh.
While he would not say who Sayegh was talking to about buying the theater, closed and vacant since November 2017, Cifelli did quash one rumor: he is unaware of any discussions with the Township of Montclair about purchasing or leasing the venue.
An email from the lawyer to prospective buyers, obtained by Montclair Local, shows that Sayegh now hopes to sell the Bellevue Theatre, rather than lease it.
An option to lease from an unnamed lessee expired in December of 2018, Cifelli said. He declined to name that lessee.
“My client is now free to entertain other offers. Due to other projects in which he is now involved, my client has determined to pursue the sale of the property,” the email reads.
The Bellevue closed in November 2017, when then-tenant Bow-Tie Cinema declined to renew its lease. Bow Tie then turned down a six-figure offer to keep the theater’s furniture and equipment in place for a future tenant.
The news of the cinema’s closing was a shock for Montclair residents when word leaked out that the Nov. 12, 2017 of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” with a live performance from the group The Home of Happiness, would be the final one there. Home of Happiness had performed at the Bellevue for 14 years.
The iconic English Tudor style theater was originally built by Robert Anderson, son of Charles W. Anderson, who had earlier donated the land for Anderson Park, historian Lisanne Renner told Montclair Local last year.
The theater opened in 1922, with a showing of “Orphans of the Storm” starring Lillian Gish.
After the theater closed in 2017, a small rally took place at the cinema, and residents created a “save-the-theater” petition and a dedicated Facebook page.
Negotiations with interested parties are on going, Cifelli said, though he would not comment on with whom.
In the email sent to prospective purchasers, the Bellevue price for an “as is” and “no contingency” offer was set at $4.5 million dollars. An offer providing for a contingency asks for “a minimum price of $5 million dollars and must provide for the purchaser to pay the equivalent of rent in the annual amount of $150,000 payable monthly plus carrying costs for the property during any contingency period.”
Luke Parker Bowles, a Montclair Film board member; Hollywood star, Patrick Wilson; Vincent Onorati; Steven Plofker; and Andrew Childs makeup Highgate Hall, LLC, a group interested in restoring the Bellevue to its life as a cinema. The LLC was named for the tea room then bar that was located in the Bellevue in the 1930s.
When the cinema closed in November, Parker Bowles and Wilson met immediately. Parker Bowles told Montclair Local last year that he and Wilson discussed what they were missing in their lives as parents. When the Bellevue closed, Parker Bowles felt that “the beating heart of Montclair had disappeared.”
He, Wilson and Onorati originally conceived of Highgate Hall, LLC.
Highgate Hall is still actively working, Parker Bowles said in a text, and hopes to have resolution with the owner in the next few weeks.
Last month, when Parker Bowles spoke to Montclair Local about Scoundrel Film’s Shorts, Parker Bowles spoke about the group’s desire to have a building where “the community is served,” but wants it to be sustainable.
Highgate Hall conceived of a place that serves food and drink, as well as offering movies, since it’s hard for a venue to survive on ticket sales alone.
When Sayegh spoke to Montclair Local last year, he pointed out that independent movie theaters see competition not only from mall multiplexes but also from DVDs, Netflix and home video.
But Sayegh has a soft spot for movie houses, his lawyer said, and he would like the Bellevue to remain one.
“My client is hopeful that the ultimate results will be what he has always hoped, preservation of the theater,” Cifelli said.