The rumblings of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema replacing the old Tom Thumb at Skillman-Abrams are growing in Lake Highlands among our neighborhood’s movers and shakers. We can’t confirm Alamo has signed a lease yet, but …
“It is a — let me call it a rampant rumor,” says Bill Blaydes, a longtime neighborhood real estate broker and former city councilman. “It’s something that has not been made widely publicly known, for sure, but I would bet money on the fact that they are talking about doing it.”
We asked Alamo Drafthouse Dallas COO Bill Digaetano about the rumors, and he says the company is “looking very hard for a location where Alamo can land in East Dallas. That said, we have yet to settle on an exact location.” Representatives of Triumph Commercial Real Estate, which is leasing the shopping center, didn’t return our phone call over the weekend.
Tom Thumb vacated the building three years ago, leaving the Skillman-Abrams Shopping Center on the intersection’s northeast corner without an anchor. Its predecessor was a Simon David grocery store, which Ryan Fuqua, a senior associate with commercial real estate brokerage firm The Weitzman Group, remembers from his days at Lake Highlands High School.
“A grocery store in there again is kind of a hard sell,” Fuqua says, noting that with Super Target across the street, Walmart and Sam’s down the road at Timbercreek Crossing, and Sprouts under construction up the road at the Lake Highlands Town Center, the market is “already heavily dominated by big-box guys.”
Though the building was built to house a big-box tenant, it’s a somewhat unique box, with an upstairs level that, during its Simon David iteration, featured “a community meeting room popular with PTA moms, Bible studies and civic groups,” as Carol Toler has reported. She discussed the store’s large underground parking lot in the same story.
Still, it’s a “tough asset” and an entertainment concept may be the best prospect for an anchor, says Fuqua, who now lives a stone’s throw away from the high school. If Alamo Drafthouse moves in, “I think it brings a whole new life to that center,” he says. “It’s a sad corner right now.”
The center has seen a series of store closings in the last few years; Sprouts at one point intended to take over the Tom Thumb space but instead chose the Town Center. Fuqua sees a potential Alamo Drafthouse driving more restaurants to the center, especially in the “island” spaces once occupied by Liquid Zoo and Sigel’s.
“If a theater is going somewhere, they see potential,” he says. “I think it’s going to spark interest in everyone’s eyes if it gets announced.”
That “if” is important, Fuqua says: The prospect of an Alamo Drafthouse means nothing until a lease is hammered out and signed.
“Any other deal is going to be contingent on that deal,” he says.
Known for its arthouse feel and innovative food and drink menu, Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse opened its first Dallas-Fort Worth cinema in Richardson, at Belt Line and 75, in 2013; a second location in The Cedars near downtown Dallas opened in February; and a future Las Colinas theater will be its third in DFW. Alamo backed out of a plan to open a Little Elm location, and looked seriously at the historic Lakewood Theater but ultimately passed.
It’s no secret that Alamo Drafthouse is shopping for even more DFW locations, says Bob Young, executive managing director with The Weitzman Group.
Young recently drove past the company’s Richardson theater and found a packed parking lot, even though it was a rainy day. As an anchor or even co-anchor, Alamo similarly would be “a driver” at the Skillman-Abrams Shopping Center, amounting to “a shot in the arm for real estate that was maybe just kind of limping along,” Young says. “It can become stronger.”
“In retail real estate today, the most active, hottest kind of category is food and entertainment,” Young says. “If you look at shopping centers around the marketplace, there are more food offerings than ever before. They cluster, and bring people in.
“It almost takes on more of a neighborhood feel,” he says.
Blaydes also believes Alamo would have the ability to turn the Skillman Abrams Shopping Center into “a kind of gathering place in that location for everything that is just to the north of it and to the east of it.”
“I think it would draw ‘like’ establishments, to some degree,” Blaydes says, “maybe a dining establishment or two that don’t want to pay the Town Center prices” and “things like what T. Hee’s was, that kind of a shop, because of the draw it would have at least four days of the week.”
Blaydes believes an Alamo Drafthouse, because of its alcohol offerings both in its theaters and in attached bars, would require some kind of special use permit from the city to open in that spot, but unless neighbors oppose it, he doesn’t foresee that being a problem.
“I wouldn’t have one iota of concern about the operations or the quality of the group,” he says.
He also sees it as a complement rather than a competitor to the future Lake Highlands Town Center. “That would be a huge win-win for the entire Lake Highlands area, in my opinion.”