Historic Neptune Theatre will survive as a venue for music and other live shows

The struggling University District cinema was about to shut down for good, but instead its operations will be taken over by the Seattle Theatre Group, which runs the Paramount and Moore theaters.

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The undersea-themed interior of the Neptune Theatre

The struggling University District cinema was about to shut down for good, but instead its operations will be taken over by the Seattle Theatre Group, which runs the Paramount and Moore theaters.

Seattle Theatre Group, the nonprofit group that operates the Paramount and Moore theaters, announced yesterday that it signed a multi-year lease on the Neptune Theatre and plans to turn it into a venue for live music, comedy, theater, and fine-arts performances.

The historic University District cinema, which opened in 1921, was in danger of being shuttered for good in February, when the lease held by the current operators, Landmark Theaters, expires. The Neptune will still close then, but it will reopen in the spring under STG's management.

The new operators plan to spend $500,000 to transform the building into a setting for live performances. The work will include remodeling the bathrooms, installing a new sprinkler system, removing half of the main-floor seating, and restoring historic cosmetic details. As a nod to the theater’s tradition, some films will be shown at the Neptune, but screening movies will not be the venue's primary purpose.  

The arrival of the Neptune as a music venue adds a much-needed option outside of the city’s downtown core. The theater likely will become an economic driver in the University District, especially when Sound Transit’s light rail begins running through the area, with a planned stop outside the Neptune.  

When work on the Neptune is complete it is expected to house 700 to 1,000 people. This makes it a good option for medium-sized artists that can pack clubs like Neumos and the Crocodile, which have capacities of around 500 each, but can’t quite fill the Paramount and Moore, which house around 3,000 and 1,500, respectively.

The Neptune might also bring a bit of competition to AEG Live, the company that operates both Showboxes (downtown and in SODO), which compare in size to the Neptune. STG currently rents those other venues when it books artists that can’t fill the venues it operates, which is a common practice in the concert industry. It will likely continue to do so but on a less regular basis once the Neptune reopens. 

STG spokeswoman Amanda Bedell said the theater group has plans for partnerships with the University of Washington that will incorporate UW programming and students. She said details will be announced closer to the Neptune's reopening. 

The news of the possible closure of the Neptune broke last week and follows a trend that’s seen several of the city’s older movie houses facing financial difficulties. Earlier this week the 84-year-old Uptown Theatre in Queen Anne closed its doors for good and owners of the Columbia City Theatre asked the public for help with raising $50,000 to keep that theatre open. The deal with STG, which involves a long-term lease for more than 10 years, allows the Neptune to remain in business. 

“Teri White and all the folks at Landmark Theatres have been great tenants for many years, but The Neptune could have been another casualty in the declining single-screen theater industry if it weren’t for our partnership with Seattle Theatre Group,” said Craig Thompson, in a news release announcing the deal. Thompson is the current owner of the Neptune and a relative of the theatre’s original owners.  

“My family’s theater has been a fixture in the University District since 1921 and expanding the artistic programming beyond film will help keep it a vital part of this community,” he said. “If not for this partnership, we’d be considering numerous non-arts related property uses.”


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