WESTFIELD, NJ — Lettering on the marquees of shuttered movie theaters in Cranford and Montclair show plans to reopen the destinations, but no such wording adorns the front of the affiliated Rialto Theatre in Westfield, which closed suddenly last month.
Jesse Sayegh, owner of the theaters, said he was caught by surprise when New Vision Cinemas LLC, which operated the cinemas in Union County, left the Rialto Theatre more than 16 months before the lease was set to expire and then vacated the nearby Cranford Theatre less than two weeks later.
On Tuesday, Sayegh told TAPinto Westfield he plans for his own family to reopen the Cranford Theatre in November, and he will meet with officials in Westfield next month to discuss the future of the Rialto Theatre.
“We’re going to prove to those people that abandoning the theater was a mistake,” Sayegh said by telephone from Central America. “We are going to run the place under our own management in our own style, and hopefully the place will do well. We are looking at a different plan for the Rialto that will be the subject of discussion when I come back in October.”
Competition for audiences from the Rialto’s cinema counterparts in Mountainside and Watchung make it key that his team transforms the theater into a destination to attract moviegoers from across the region in addition to from Westfield, Sayegh said.
“The theater cannot depend on the local residents only. It needs to draw from the outside area,” he said.
Sayegh said he intends to model the theater in Westfield after plans underway for the Bellevue Theatre in Montclair, a cinema of similar size to the Rialto. The Bellevue Theatre closed in 2017, but is anticipated to benefit from a bevy of investors seeking to turn it into a restaurant and bar that also offers movies, NorthJersey.com reported.
Sayegh told TAPinto Westfield he hopes to have both the Bellevue Theatre and the Rialto Theatre operational by 2022 the 100th anniversary of the two cinemas, both of which were both built in the same year.
“But it all depends on how fast can we get a liquor license,” he said. Financing for the development in Westfield will also be a key factor, Sayegh added.
Sayegh said he anticipates extensive construction will begin at the Bellevue Theatre in Upper Montclair by November if state and local approvals are met.
Mayor Shelley Brindle, who has been in talks with Sayegh about the transition at the 97-year-old cinema in Westfield, noted the potential for her town and expressed optimism about neighboring Cranford’s boon.
“We want to make sure that we are re-imagining all the options for what can happen in that space. I’m thrilled that Cranford is reopening. I spoke to the Cranford mayor this morning,” Brindle said Tuesday. “We all recognize that what is good for one town is good for the other. I’m very happy we are keeping people in our own corridor.”
It is not, however, the best political timing for local leadership in Westfield.
News of the anticipated opening in Cranford comes in the run up to a municipal election in Westfield, a time of politicized discussion about the local business climate, something Brindle has made a key goal of improving during her time in office.
Following The Rialto’s closure last month, council candidate Rich Bodmer created the Facebook page Save the Rialto, which as of Tuesday had 1,139 followers and has become a source of the political discourse.
As for the marquee at the Rialto in Westfield, which states that the theater is closed, Sayegh said he hopes to have firmer plans in place before swapping out any lettering.
“Once we have our meeting with the town next month, and we have a game plan, I’m sure we will use the marquee to start advertising,” he said. “But I don’t want to put anything up prematurely.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh
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