Atlanta moviegoers were saddened and just plain outraged at the announcement, in winter of 2022 that the Tara Theatre, at the corner of Cheshire Bridge and LaVista Road, would close.
Those more professionally tuned in to the theatre business were perhaps not so shocked as parent company Regal Cinemas had filed for bankruptcy, simply unable to dig out of COVID’s years of devastation of staying home with Netflix. In past years, Tara had served as one of the screens for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival which was somewhat relieved this year with the addition of the Landmark Theatre and historic Plaza Theatre.
At the closing night of the AJFF on Feb. 21 at City Springs, Chris Escobar announced that he would reopen the beloved Tara Theatre and would still cater to foreign, art house and indie film fans, in addition to 35mm and 70mm formats.
Escobar stated, “Just like Atlanta, the Tara will rise again.” Escobar, who wears two hats, has been executive director of the nonprofit Atlanta Film Society for the past 12 years. Six years ago, he formed a new company to purchase the historic Plaza Theatre on Ponce DeLeon Avenue; and now, as an owner in the new Tara Theatre.
He told the AJT, “I had been tracking Regal’s publicly known problems worldwide and knew just a few days prior, in November, that they would close Tara, having rejected new leases. We are just so lucky to have made a new lease deal with the local Halpern family…who cares about the community, not just treated [Tara] as a dollars and cents bottom line ledger. After all, rent is a sizeable item.”
Escobar hinted that Jewish ties worked in this case: Kenny Blank, executive director of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, and chairman and CEO of Halpern Enterprises Jack Halpern had pivotal conversations which resulted in the new workable situation.
Halpern Enterprises owns the entire Cheshire Square Shopping Center, including Tara and all the store fronts, as well as Publix, but excluding the Wells Fargo branch. Halpern has also managed the property for the past 50-plus years.
Halpern said, “When Regal Cinemas never recovered from the impact of COVID-19 and filed for bankruptcy, we began to look seriously for plan B to take advantage of the property’s prime location. The theater industry in Atlanta is a relatively small community, and word travels quickly. We heard from several prospective users once Regal decided to close its doors.”
John Brozovic, who leases Cheshire Square for Halpern Enterprises, received a call from Escobar. Brozovic said, “I contacted Kenny Blank at the Jewish Film Festival to let him know that we now had possession of the Tara and could make it available to the festival this year if they needed any additional screens. Kenny encouraged us to consider Chris as a potential tenant for the Tara; based on Kenny’s endorsement and Chris’s track record at his other theatres, we ended up making a deal with him.”
Halpern expects that there will be enhancements to the interior, ultimately leaving it up to the new operator to design and implement any changes, and that more formal plans will soon be forthcoming.
Escobar added, “Contrary to the past, we will be serving Coke!”
In terms of the overall desirability of the center, located not far from the intensely Jewish Toco Hills neighborhood, Halpern said, “We’ve been able to attract a good balance of daytime and nighttime users to this location which helps provide adequate parking for all our tenants and their customers at different times of the day and night.”
The center is also within walking distance of thousands of nearby residents, which further reduces the potential demand for parking. In response to the growing popularity of electric cars, several charging stations have recently been installed as an amenity for customers and employees at Cheshire Square.
Ever modest, Halpern said, “The bottom line is important to us, too, but our goal with Escobar (and any negotiation) was to end up with a ‘win-win’ result — which I think we were able to achieve.”
To get fans more involved, Escobar has established a goal of raising $50,000 in future tickets and vouchers available for public support ahead of the opening. Go to taraatlanta.com to purchase and/or donate. See you at the movies!