Jacksons to leave Walton Theater

Published 9:40pm Monday, December 16, 2013

After two years of operation, the Jackson family will no longer run the Walton Theater after Dec. 22.

Sharon Jackson said the decision to end management came after the city council’s Public Buildings Committee decided not to approve a transition proposal or present a counter offer.

“We told them that time was of the essence because in order for us to stay involved in this we had some contractual obligations we would have had to have made for 2014,” she said. “They didn’t approve it, so we are out of the theater business.”

The proposal asked for the city to waive a $2,000 outstanding rent balance in lieu of approximately $2,200 in maintenance costs for 2013. The proposal also asked the city to waive rent payments for 2014. Instead of paying rent the Jacksons would continue paying for maintenance and provide $1.5 million in liability insurance. If approved, the Jacksons would have continued operation of the theater until February while helping to transition to new management.

One figure in the proposal received more criticism from committee members than the Jacksons expected. In a meeting, Evans asked the Jacksons to provide a dollar amount for a new lessee to purchase equipment in the theater. The Jacksons responded with an estimate of $15,000 for furniture, fixtures, training time, access to the customer database, computer equipment, software and any other inventory.

“I’m not OK with all this money they are asking for to transition,” Ward 3 councilman Greg Bjelke said.  “I look around there and see most everything belongs to the city.”

But Sharon Jackson said $15,000 would “by no means be a requirement” and an accurate representation of the entry cost to run a movie theater. She said it would also be lower than if a lessee purchased new equipment.

David Jackson said he and Sharon repeatedly tried to figure out a solution, but received limited cooperation from city government.

“We are simply just a lessee,” David Jackson said. “But, in good faith, we’ve been wanting to work with the city to help them transition the theater to new operators so it wouldn’t end up like a lot of businesses around here. They just end.”

Despite the Jackson’s willingness to figure out a transition plan, the theater has operated on a loss for two years. David and Sharon Jackson also didn’t receive a salary white operating the theater. They cited lackluster attendance numbers and a large cost of entry into the theater business as reasons for low profits.

“The theater challenge is getting admission, attendance, actual numbers of bodies,” David Jackson said.

The Walton Theater won’t close its doors just yet. Five days remain until Dec. 22. Jason Isbell, a musician from North Alabama, will also perform at the theater on Dec. 27.

The theater could also re-open in the near future as the city is also in talks with a new lessee to run the theater.



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