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The Forest Theater redevelopment should lift the entire community

An Open Letter to CitySquare | 8/28/2017, 7:59 a.m.

For over two and a half years, Junie Development, LLC, a collaboration involving Kennedy Barnes and Ward White, both successful attorneys with proven entertainment project creation, along with Dr. Terry Flowers, headmaster of the St. Philips School and Community Center, has worked to provide an innovative, comprehensive redevelopment plan for the historic Forest Theater. On the eve of Junie’s expected closing, CitySquare, supported by its donor, Jon Halbert, offered significantly more money on terms more favorable to the sellers and was able to purchase the property.

The Forest represents a rare opportunity to transform and anchor a substantial economic driver for a part of our City that has been ignored and historically exploited. Change is inevitable, but we believe that change MUST benefit the entire community and its long-standing residents. That’s why we focused on a comprehensive strategy focused on the Forest as an entertainment venue.

CitySquare has successfully created sustainable properties, which primarily serve the homeless and chronically impoverished communities. But its experience in the entertainment content development is lacking.

In early June, we met with CitySquare leaders Larry James, John Sibert and Rev. Gerald Britt. During that meeting, we described Junie’s plan to develop the Forest Theater as a catalyst/economic driver for the surrounding area.

It was explained that Junie Development and its collaborators have already developed a financing, development and operational strategy involving Erykah Badu along with an experienced team of leading entertainment professionals willing to develop and operate the Theater portion of the development as a high-volume “best-in-class” entertainment venue.

Junie Development believes that the Forest Theater can serve as a much-needed neighborhood “anchor” (both in terms of revenue and cultural content) that has the ability to draw traffic from not just the immediate neighborhood, but from across the entire region, helping catalyze the economic development of the adjacent parcels and the larger “Forest District” beyond. Additionally, we offered to work in direct collaboration with CitySquare to bring not only the Forest Theater but the larger “Forest District” back to life.

While CitySquare is certainly to be applauded for wanting to bring the historic theater back to life as a non-profit facility community center, we believe there are a number of potential scenarios where the redeveloped theater facility and its “community” uses could be successfully integrated into a comprehensive plan for the “Forest District” that includes a primary for-profit entertainment driver capable of anchoring the larger area.

Our Proposal:

We offered three (3) possible solutions for a collaborative effort that accomplishes the economic development objectives above:

1. Forest Theater as an entertainment anchor.

Junie Development’s Entertainment Group – led by our team, which includes Erykah Badu and other leading entertainment/promoters and producers – hold an operating agreement on the Forest Theater facility for live entertainment events. This can be accomplished without interfering with the non-profit/community uses of CitySquare’s redevelopment of the facility. Additionally, CitySquare allows JDEG to develop the roughly 40,000 square-foot empty lot facing Peabody Avenue, adjacent to the south face of the existing Forest Theater, as part of a contiguous “Forest District” mixed-use development. JDEG will secure sufficient parking spaces for the facility elsewhere.

2. Entertainment anchor developed on Peabody.

CitySquare redevelops and operates the existing facility exclusively with non-profit/community uses and allows JDEG to develop a new facility on the roughly 40,000 square-foot empty lot facing Peabody Avenue adjacent to the south face of the existing Forest Theater that includes an entertainment driver.

3. Entertainment anchor developed elsewhere in forest district.

JDEG develops an entertainment anchor elsewhere in the immediate area, and CitySquare commits to develop the roughly 40,000 square-foot empty lot facing Peabody Avenue in a manner that is complementary to JDEG’s “Forest District” plan for a larger contiguous mixed-use development, as opposed to allowing the lot to remain as surface parking.

Junie is prepared to move forward with any of these outcomes, and we believe that such collaboration will garner wide community support, and will maximize the potential value of the Forest District area. We believe that effective integration of these components can be a valuable tool for not just building a “revenue driver” that can help spur further development, but also creating a “cultural driver” that can anchor a new narrative for the immediate neighborhood.