Developer lands upscale theater chain for Southwest Austin project

Article provided by: The Austin Business Journal

Although Austin-based Stratus Properties Inc. (Nasdaq: STRS) has a cantankerous fight on its hands with a renegade stockholder who aims to take control of the company through a proxy fight, company executives are moving ahead with a major development in Southwest Austin.

Stratus Chairman, CEO and President Beau Armstrong said Tuesday the company has signed Moviehouse & Eatery as anchor tenant of the $80 million Lantana Place, a 325,000-square-foot mixed-used development to be built at the southwest corner of William Cannon Drive and Southwest Parkway.

Click on the photo to see a site plan and photos of Moviehouse & Eatery theaters.

Moviehouse & Eatery partners Leslie Sloan and Rodney Speaks told Austin Business Journal the affluent demographics in the area and the fact that they live nearby sold them on the Stratus project — even though it will be March 2018 before they can move into the 42,700-square-foot building.

Sloan and Speaks created the Moviehouse brand several years ago when they developed the Trails at 620 retail project in far Northwest Austin and decided to get personally involved in the theater business. Since then, they've opened theaters in Keller and Flower Mound, Texas. They have another theater set to open this year in McKinney.

The theaters feature plush reclining chairs and a full bar and restaurant menu. Though they aren't comparing themselves to other operators, Moviehouse & Eatery takes a more upscale than Austin's movie-and-a-meal market dominator — Alamo Drafthouse.

That differentiator appealed to Stratus. Armstrong said Lantana Place is fully entitled and should be underway by the end of the year.

He said the development team is also negotiating with an operator to build a 150-room, 140,000-square-foot hotel. About 62,400 square feet of additional retail is planned, particularly restaurant tenants, which have been in short supply in the upscale southwest submarket.

Bryan Dabbs of BKD Realty and Peter Gardere of Stratus are the listing brokers for the retail. Jon Andrus is overseeing the entire development as project manager and Gary Payne of Enviroplan Architects Planners is handling the design.

It's largely the same team that developed the Oaks at Lakeway, an HEB Grocery Co.-anchored retail center in Lakeway, which is currently wrapping up construction and is on the market.

Beyond the retail and hotel elements, Stratus also plans to add office and medical office elements for the balance of the project.

Stratus has a long history of development in Southwest Austin — an area over the Edwards Aquifer that has resisted development for years due to environmental concerns.

But now that the project is fully entitled, Armstrong is eager to move forward with the mixed-use plan.

The likelihood of that happening may depend on large part whether stockholders support Carl Berg, the activist investor who owns about 17.6 percent of the company and has been lobbying other stockholders to wrest control from Armstrong and current board members.

Berg, a Silicon Valley-based investors, believes Stratus has underperformed and sold its assets at weak prices. He also believes Stratus overpays its executive staff. He wants to see the company sold.

The battle should come to a head June 6 when Stratus holds its annual stockholder meeting at the W Hotel — which it built.

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Author: Monte Davis

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