Those fears took a while to inspire action. But after three more condo projects — one that would have converted the nearby BP gas station to apartments was recently withdrawn by the developer after neighbors objected — brought more people to the conversation about the future of the Libbie and Grove shopping corridor, action is exactly what area business leaders and residents are taking in an effort to ensure the Westhampton Theater maintains its place as a centerpiece.
The Friends of the Westhampton formed at the beginning of summer, and late last month, the group’s leaders held conversations with Regal Entertainment Group, which owns and operates the movie theater, gaining not only assurances that the theater will remain open in the short term, but time to plan for keeping it around for the long term.
“It will remain open,” says First District Councilman Bruce Tyler, who has been involved with the Friends group and who spoke directly with Regal officials to gain assurances. “We had an excellent conversation, and the theater is not going to be shut down in the next year, nor are there any plans at this time to sell it.”
Calls to other members of the Friends of the Westhampton Theater were not returned by press time, but Jennifer Ferguson, an area Realtor who helped to form the group, confirmed in an earlier interview with Richmond magazine that the organization had been successful in its negotiations with Regal.
Both she and Tyler indicated that the group has patrons with potentially deep pockets who, in the future, might contribute toward the purchase of the theater building.
But Tyler says purchase of the theater by the Friends of the Westhampton is not necessarily the direction that’s necessary to keep the films rolling at the Westhampton.
“It could be the possibility of the theater staying the same with ... [Regal] running it for another 10 to 15 years, or it could be a combination of the Friends of the [Westhampton] Theater buying the theater and then leasing back to Regal or another organization,” Tyler says. “This is an arts movie theater — it’s a niche market, and it’s a very unique situation.”
But for now, the most important thing, Tyler says, is “it will remain open — and that’s the key conversation.”