Plans for the Villa Theatre's rebirth at the center of a new entertainment center looked to be on the verge of collapsing Tuesday, but the theater's owners said later in the day that they hadn't given up hope.

Early Tuesday, Dama Barbour, vice president of real estate for Harmons grocery stores, said it looked like the highly anticipated sale of the Villa wasn't going to happen.

"The sale fell through," Barbour said, indicating that Harmons planned to put the property back on the market.

However, Harmons said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that it continues to give the prospective buyer "every opportunity to make things work, and we are very hopeful that everything will come together for the sale. It is our goal to keep the building intact."

Harmons spokeswoman Rhonda Greenwood said though the expected closing date had passed, the parties continued to pursue "good faith" talks.

"Something happened during the course of the day" that brought buyer and seller back to the table, Greenwood said. The store declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality agreements. Representatives of the prospective buyers did not respond to requests for comment.

In August, Harmons confirmed it was in negotiations to sell the property, 3092 S. Highland Drive, to an unnamed buyer. Representatives of the buyers said the theater likely would play a central role in a diverse entertainment complex that was to include restaurant space, retail stores, a nightclub and/or dinner theater.

Barbour said early Tuesday that Harmons had received other inquiries about the property but declined to elaborate. She questioned rumors that Harmons had been in talks with a California-based furniture retailer.

"I haven't heard about that," Barbour said.

Brad Arrington, a Los Angeles-based prospective buyer, said via e-mail Tuesday that he had attempted to contact Harmons regarding the Villa, to no avail.

"I have inquired regarding the theatre," Arrington wrote. "Harmons would not speak with me. They referred me to a real-estate broker whom I spoke with. She was representing another party who wanted to turn the Villa into a nightclub."

Arrington said he was part of a group of investors who hoped to "restore the Villa to its Cinerama days and keep the theatre running as a single-screen house."

Despite Harmons' statement Tuesday, Arrington said he believes the Villa eventually will be razed.

"I think the Villa will be destroyed," he said. "I've been through too many of these things, and the patterns are all the same."

Harmons announced in February that it had purchased the 3.3-acre Villa Theatre property as an "investment property." The theater's tenant, Carmike Cinemas, declined an offer to lease the building at that time, pulled up stakes and left. The building has been vacant for the past six months.

The Villa opened for business on Dec. 23, 1949, the pride of the Joseph L. Lawrence Theatres. At that time, it featured stadium-style seating and had a capacity of more than 1,300. In 1955, the theater was purchased by Fox Intermountain, and in 1960 a 100-foot screen was installed, reducing capacity seating to less than 1,000.

More than a half-dozen owners have tried their hand at the Villa's reins during its 52-year run as a movie house. The last movie to play under its marquee was "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."


E-mail: jnii@desnews.com