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Originally published November 29, 2010 at 9:24 PM | Page modified November 30, 2010 at 12:10 PM

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Seattle Theatre Group to turn Neptune into live-performance venue

Seattle Theatre Group, the nonprofit organization that runs the Paramount and Moore theaters in downtown Seattle, is taking over the Neptune Theatre, turning the University District movie theater into a primarily live-performance venue — and saving it from possible demolition.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The nonprofit organization that runs the Paramount and Moore theaters in downtown Seattle is taking over the Neptune Theatre, turning the University District icon into a primarily live-performance venue — and saving it from possible demolition.

Seattle Theatre Group will assume control from Landmark Theatres, which has operated the 700-seat Neptune as a movie theater since 1981 and will continue showing movies there until February.

STG will then close the building to remodel the bathrooms, add a sprinkler system and remove half the main-floor seating, reopening in May. Though it means the end of another neighborhood movie house in Seattle — after Sunday's closure of the Uptown Theatre in Lower Queen Anne — it also means the nearly 90-year-old theater will remain open.

Earlier this year, Sound Transit had considered demolishing the building at Northeast 45th Street and Brooklyn Avenue Northeast as part of its plan to build a light-rail station in the area but has since scrapped that idea.

STG plans to keep the Neptune name and marquee as it converts the theater into a space that will host concerts, comedy shows, speakers, and fine-arts and community performances and events. It plans to still screen some films there, though not primarily first-run movies.

The goal is to present both local and touring artists in a venue outside the downtown core.

STG Executive Director Josh LaBelle said his organization values historic theaters, partnership opportunities, arts as an economic tool and diverse arts for a diverse community.

"The Neptune offers all that."

Under Landmark Theatres, the Neptune was known for showing a variety of films from blockbusters to Oscar-bait documentaries and, for a number of years, weekly midnight showings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

"It saddens us to leave this historical landmark in Seattle," said Ted Mundorff, Landmark CEO.

Craig Thompson, one of the Thompson family members who own the Neptune building, said it was his family's decision not to renew Landmark's year-to-year lease.

Landmark has been a great tenant — "I can't say enough good things about them," Thompson said.

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But Thompson said signing a lease of more than 10 years with STG will bring in more money for his family and better serve the neighborhood.

STG, he said, has a track record of doing well by historic theater buildings. "It's a booster to the neighborhood — the life they can bring back to the building," Thompson said.

LaBelle said the Neptune could provide an especially apt rehearsal and performance space for younger, developing artists whose audiences may not yet be large enough for the Paramount or Moore theaters, which have 2,807 and 1,419 seats, respectively.

For STG, expanding to the U District also means being closer to University of Washington students.

"All arts organizations need to be continuing to develop young audiences," said LaBelle.

STG's plan for the Neptune was a factor that caused Sound Transit to reconsider demolishing the building to create a light-rail station, said transit spokesman Bruce Gray.

Now, the station is planned for next door, basically running from the back of the Neptune down to Northeast 43rd Street along Brooklyn Avenue Northeast.

There's even a move to get city landmark status for the Neptune Theatre. Local architect Larry Johnson said he's been working on the nomination since he got wind Sound Transit had been considering tearing the building down. He still plans to nominate the Neptune.

LaBelle said STG already operates two theaters with historic-landmark status — the Paramount and Moore — and would have no problem with the Neptune getting such a designation.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

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