Former Abbey Theatre gets a makeover

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Chris and Michele Redding survey the empty shell that was the Abbey Theatre. The couple, who own neighboring Cuckoo’s Chicken House & Waterin’ Hole, plan to open the Animas City Theatre there in June.

By Ted Holteen Herald staff writer

After several months of rumor, conjecture and even a visit to the courthouse, the future of the former Abbey Theatre is now clear.

First off, it won’t be called the Abbey Theatre. New tenants Michele and Chris Redding, who opened Cuckoo’s Chicken House & Waterin’ Hole next to the theater 14 years ago, plan to open the Animas City Theatre – “The ACT” – in June.

“It’s not even like starting from scratch – it’s before scratch,” Michele Redding said Monday inside the barren space that used to be the Abbey.

Former owner Chuck Kuehn of Dos Amigos Productions lost a court battle in February to extend the lease on the Abbey from landlord Charles Bates. Kuehn had until March 15 to vacate the space and did so, taking almost everything not nailed down with him.

The theater is devoid of all sound, lighting and projection equipment, including the movie screen and all the backdrop curtains on and back stage.

The sinks and counters were removed from the side bar and all of the seats, acoustic paneling and lights are gone. Kuehn said he had purchased the Abbey as a business in 2009 for $200,000, and he and former partner Doug Sitter put another $200,000 into it, and he was entitled to take the equipment.

Bates may challenge some of what was taken in future potential litigation. Kuehn also owns the Abbey name, website and marquee.

“He did take the stripper pole so that’s a plus,” Chris Redding said.

The Reddings will spend tens of thousands of dollars to refit The ACT for a June grand opening. They plan to show independent and other films as well as host concerts and community events such as Snowdown and downtown music and arts festivals.

The ACT will be a digital movie theater, a rarity these days for single-screen movie houses. Instead of converting the theater to digital, the Reddings will start it that way and save thousands in the process.

“It is going to be like a blank canvas, so that’s a positive,” Chris Redding said.

Kuehn said he offered to sell much of the equipment to the Reddings for 60 percent of its replacement value, but the two sides were far apart on the value. Kuehn asked $81,000 and then $67,000, but the counteroffer never exceeded $20,000.

There will be little of the acrimony between tenants at 128 E. College Drive that existed between Kuehn, the Reddings and former Randy’s restaurant owner Randy Burton. Burton spoke against Kuehn at the February hearing as did Michele Redding and Bates.

The Reddings now own two of the three businesses, and Randy’s is now 6512. Chris Forrest, a co-owner of the new bistro, said he expects a positive and symbiotic relationship. 6512 serves food until midnight on weekends, which is later than Randy’s schedule, but employees will do sound tests when the theater opens to gauge how the 6512 crowd will be affected by any spillover noise. Forrest said he doesn’t anticipate any conflicts.

“We’re looking forward to having a venue in there again and continuing a good relationship. Hopefully, we’ll complement one another. It’s nothing but a positive for them taking that over,” Forrest said.

The Reddings said they’ve been flooded with inquiries and requests since word got out that they planned to take over the lease on the theater.

They have heard from musicians eager to play the venue as well as film buffs, nonprofit organizations and others.

“I’ve gotten a bunch of résumés from people who want to work here, too,” Michele Redding said.

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