Rebirth of downtown theaters brings new competition _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Gregor Fox, who bought the Loew's State Palace Theatre last year, has sold it to the owners of a downtown hotel.

Developer Gregor Fox had big plans for the long-neglected Loew’s State Palace Theatre on Canal Street when he bought it last year.

“I want to bring it back to its original glory,” Fox said during a tour of the theater, which was built in 1926 as a silent-movie house for first-run MGM films.

However, daunted by the cost and scope of the necessary renovations, Fox sold the property last month to a company registered to the owners of a downtown hotel, according to Orleans Parish court records.

“He really just fell in love with the property when he bought it,” said Richard Stone, a broker with NAI/Latter & Blum Commercial in New Orleans, who represented Fox in the latest deal.

The property was sold for $3.5 million Nov. 17 to LC Hospitality Group, records show. The limited liability company is registered to Chen Horng Lee and Chin Li Lee. They own the Wyndham Garden Baronne Plaza New Orleans hotel in the Central Business District, which is under renovation.

They could not be reached.

Fox had planned first to renovate the building’s 50,000 square feet of potential retail space, most of which is on the ground floor, before gradually restoring the theater. But that approach had challenges because “it was very difficult to change out just the major systems for retail while ignoring the rest of the building,” Stone said.

That first aspect of the renovation was expected to cost at least $25 million, Stone said, with the full project estimated as high as $50 million.

Fox listed the property a few months ago with an eye toward finding a partner to redevelop the building as a joint venture. But potential developers “had their own vision for the property” and preferred to control the process themselves, Stone said.

The future of the State Palace remains uncertain, despite other successful efforts to renovate and reopen the city’s historic downtown theaters. That has breathed new life into once-vibrant areas plagued in recent years by blight and neglect.

The process started with the reopening of the city-owned Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts in 2009, followed by the Joy Theatre in 2011 and the Saenger and Civic theaters in 2013. The Orpheum Theater, sold to the co-owners of Tipitina’s last year, reopened in the fall.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.