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Denver’s historic Esquire Theatre will close this summer. What’s next for the building?

Denver’s 96-year-old Esquire Theatre will close this summer as exhibitor Landmark Theatres pulls out of its decades-long operation of the historic movie house.

The building’s owners submitted an Adaptive Reuse Plan that was approved by the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission, which will allow them to redevelop the building into “upscale office, restaurant, and retail uses,” according to a Tuesday press statement.

The theater is slated to close to the public on July 17.

“We have entertained the possibility of leasing to another theater tenant. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to find a partner for this opportunity,” said Sam Leger, of ownership group Franklin 10 LLC, in the statement. “We have been and will continue to work with neighborhood groups as well as the city to create a desirable addition to the neighborhood.”

The 9,175-square-foot building at 590 Downing St. is boxy and monolithic, according to the owners, and needs to be integrated more with the surrounding neighborhood. To “engage the corner of 6th Avenue and Downing,” they plan to transform the building, add a tree canopy and landscape island planters, and pour new 8-foot sidewalks for pedestrian safety.

The arrangement saves the building from potential demolition — a subject very much on the mind of preservationists such as Historic Denver, who are seeking to save structures such as LoDo’s former El Chapultepec space. Owner Monfort Cos. this month said the El Chapultepec building must be demolished due to safety and engineering issues, prompting a petition this week from Historic Denver.

The Esquire has experienced a string of issues over the last five years, including a broken pipe and water damage in late 2018 that led to a lengthy closure. Less than a year after a pricey renovation, the pandemic hit. It was a fast trip to the bottom for the Esquire after that, as Landmark stopped paying rent on the property in April 2020, according to commercial real estate firm Unique Properties — which then tried to sell the building for $3.3 million in August of that year.

Tim Finholm and Sam Leger of Unique Properties ended up buying the theater for $2.1 million, according to public records, after having been hired to market the property. The ownership group Franklin 10 LLC grew out of that deal.

“The plans we have seen for the adaptive reuse of the Esquire Theatre are terrific,” said Steven Simard, president of the Alamo Placita Neighbors Association, in the statement. “The building’s owners and their design teams have proven that creativity can allow an old building to serve a new purpose in a historic neighborhood.”

Denver’s Neo Studio is handling the “green design” and construction, while the iconic Esquire signs will be refurbished and prominently featured in the new designs, owners said. The Adaptive Reuse Plan is one of the first approved by the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission under the new preservation program.

“Designers are considering uses for other notable items such as old marquees and signage,” owners said. “Existing building materials will be recycled. Green building and energy enhancements will be implemented during renovations.”

The 1927 theater opened with one screen as the Hiawatha Theatre, with Landmark leasing it since 1980. Landmark’s other Denver properties — the Mayan Theatre, Chez Artiste, and the Landmark at Greenwood Village — will remain open, the company said.

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