Patrick Robinson
The Des Moines Theater is about to see tenants for the first time in years in the form of a book store, a wholesale online clothing seller, and potentially a deli. The theater renovation and reopening has been put on hold for the next six months owners said.

Meeting with the Mayor turns the Des Moines theater project around

The Des Moines Theater story took another turn on Monday Dec. 17 as a result of a formal meeting request made by Mayor Dave Kaplan. The building owners, Tom Lin and Isaiah Dummer came to the offices of the City of Des Moines to talk about why they had recently put the building up for sale after previously announcing plans to restore the structure.

The crux of the meeting was aimed at resolving a communication breakdown between the City and the building owners regarding inspections and permits. The city had said the permit applications were inadequate and the owners said they had not heard anything from the city about this and were losing money as they waited.

Lin and Dummer claimed they lost three potential tenants for the retail sections of the 10,000 square foot building because the City would either not respond or was not forthcoming about what was expected in the plans submitted. Still, the owners pursued other potential tenants and since their cash flow had been non existent they were relieved to share they have two of the spaces filled with a third that is in the works. Coming are Page Turner Books (moving from 21917 Marine View Drive), a business startup called Thrift Threads (an online used clothing wholesaler) and potentially a deli/restaurant.

Mayor Kaplan called in City Manager Tony Piasecki, Building Official Larry Pickard, Marion Yoshino, Economic Development Manager, and the Des Moines Fire Department Assistant Fire Marshall, Gordon Goodsell to talk over what could be done to get action on the building.

The owners had, according to Lin, purposely put a high price on the building, "in order to keep our options open," he said.

Piasecki led the discussion saying, "If you're successful, we're successful. That's been a mantra that I've been trying to get into staff's head and quite frankly the business community for a long time (...) we can do our job, you can do your job. You can run your business in a way that's profitable and in the end we all are going to do better." He acknowledged that the breakdown came since there were a differing set of expectations from both sides of the question.

Dummer said that there was no commentary offered or suggestions made as to how what was submitted could better meet the city requirements. So, the process ended up taking longer and costing the owners more. Lin estimated he's lost between $12,000 and $20,000 so far from the inability to move ahead with building improvements.

For the city, Deckard said, they had not had a chance to do any kind of formal inspection based on the new proposed uses for the spaces but would come out as soon as possible to get that done. Responding the next day an inspection by Larry Deckard and the Fire Marshall was set to take place on Dec. 19.

The heating, electrical and ADA bathroom status of the spaces were the primary concerns of the city. They would need to certify that any proposed uses for the spaces met both city building and fire codes. "There's really just a standard checklist for these tenant improvement spaces," said Deckard.

Piasecki outlined the issue. "This was kind of on that line where we could have accepted it or not. When permit applications come in it's a struggle for us, figuring out when do we take it in and do something with it, knowing it's not going to get a permit the first time through versus handing it back to you and asking you to go back to the drawing board."

Dummer said his experience with the city was very surprising. "This is what I do and if it wasn't adequate I needed to know that." Lin explained that he spent $10,000 in engineering costs and $12,000 "in waiting for something to happen." So, he felt he had no choice and put the building on the market. "I spoke to the Mayor and he called this meeting and sped up the process. We don't have an unlimited amount of funds. Time is money."

Lin said he had recently purchased all the equipment that was once part of a Quizno's sandwich franchise in Lynnwood, and would open "in about four months, depending on permitting," Lin said. It will be run by Lin's former General Manager at the Alki Homestead, Chris Long. His last venture, the Shipwreck Tavern in West Seattle recently closed.

The theater itself is on hold, "for around six months," said Lin, "until the retail spaces are settled in and working." Lin and Dummer are aware that the theater will take significant upgrades to be a movie theater again, especially in light of the fact that film prints will be in far shorter supply as studios convert to all digital movie delivery. "There are lots of different uses for a theater space," Lin said, " it could be used for meetings, and stage plays or other presentations."

Lin explained that the debt service on his ownership of the building was covered by the rent of the retail spaces, so he had the freedom to develop the theater space on a somewhat longer timeline.

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