Hope renewed for Royal Theater rebirth

For decades, the Royal Theater on South Street was known as a landmark for African-American entertainers, weekend matinees and children’s talent shows.

In recent decades, however, the building has sat vacant, deteriorating as plans to restore it as an entertainment venue fell short. But neighbors have renewed hope amid word that the theater is up for sale.

Ori Feibush, of OCF Realty, said yesterday he has made an offer on the building and four adjacent lots with hopes of redeveloping it for mixed use with commercial space and apartments.

“It’s a block we would love nothing more than to restore to much of its original glory. The Royal Theater is the reason that block has been held back,” said Feibush, whose company has redeveloped several homes in the Point Breeze community and owns multiple properties on South Street.

Feibush would not disclose the amount of the offer, but said it would be the company’s largest project to-date. He emphasized that no agreement has been reached.

Shuttered since 1970, Kenny Gamble’s Universal Companies bought the theater and adjacent lots in 2000 reportedly for $300,000. Universal’s plans to revive the Royal as an entertainment venue have not materialized due to a lack of funding. The company, through a spokesperson, declined to confirm or deny whether the property was for sale.

Business owners in the area said redevelopment of the Royal could be a big boost for business.

“I’ve been waiting a long time. I’m glad to know something’s going to happen,” said Jesse Frisby-Hyden, who is relocating her women’s boutique and herb store after more than 40 years being across from the Royal. She is featured in a mural on the front of the theater.

“I would like to see something that would keep the African-American history here,” she said.

Marcus Iannozzi, president of the South Street West Business Association, said the group is excited about potential redevelopment and fully supports any efforts to retain commercial space along the corridor.

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