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[IMGCAP(1)]FORT WORTH-Playing a hunch that a three-way deal could be struck, Johnny Campbell, president and CEO of Sundance Square, has persuaded AMC Entertainment Inc. to eliminate one of two CBD theaters and backfilled it before it could close. The bet has paid off with a 10-year lease for a 40,000-sf stand-alone conference center.

“My hunch just kind of stemmed out of watching the theater business,” Campbell says. He says three-way negotiations often can be difficult. “This one was a pleasure,” he says. “Our relationship with AMC has been very good.” The inbound tenant for 304 Houston St. is Houston-based Norris Training Systems Inc., which has been scouring the city for a location nearly 18 months.

Campbell tells GlobeSt.com that Sundance will begin demolition within two weeks on the theater, which just closed two days ago. Sundance’s part of the deal is to deliver a white box with level floors while retaining stadium seating in a portion of the two-story building, AMC’s 11-screen location for the past 15 years. The AMC Palace 9 at 220 E. 3rd St., which opened 10 years ago, stands intact.

[IMGCAP(2)]The Fort Worth conference center will be the second largest in Norris’ portfolio, which includes an 80,000-sf facility at 4522 Fredricksburg Rd. in San Antonio. Linda Hampton, Norris’ executive vice president, says the Fort Worth ribbon-cutting tentatively is set for August. In the fall, Norris plans to open a 26,000-sf conference center in the 1.1-million-sf CityCentre in Houston.

Norris’ broker David Price of CresaPartners in Houston had been floating inquiries for space for quite awhile before Campbell came up with the idea that the Kansas City, MO-based AMC might consider consolidating to free up space in one of the tightest CBD markets in the state. Talks ramped up three months ago, according to Hampton.

The Norris team had converted a theater in Austin and a warehouse in Corpus Christi, but this is the first two-story building that it’s undertaken. The soundproofing system and stadium seats make theaters a good choice, Hampton says. “And being part of that Sundance community was very appealing,” she stresses.

Hampton says Norris is planning an estimated $2-million renovation once Sundance delivers the white box. Although space planning has just begun, she envisions 10 or 11 meeting rooms in 22,000 sf to 25,000 sf, with the balance of the space as lobbies, offices, restrooms and kitchen.

Campbell says Norris contracts with local restaurants rather than staff its own kitchen. “Now, you’re seeing an opportunity for synergy,” he says, explaining that too was key to the decision to ask AMC for its space. “It’s the greater venue of Sundance Square that’s making it so attractive.”

The Norris center targets day trippers who don’t require hotel rooms and often are attending meetings that, by choice, aren’t catered. Campbell admits parking was a concern for the inbound tenant, but it was allotted spaces, as needed, in the immediate area. Sundance Square controls 5,000 parking spaces, including three lots within two blocks of the theater and a 766-space garage right across the street.

Campbell says the Downtown’s need for more meeting space also was addressed since several hotels are revamping their spaces and new hotels are on the way. Sundance Square, a destination location for tourists and locals alike, has had a steady stream of meeting space requests for expos, seminars, training and special events “that we can’t accommodate in Sundance,” Campbell says. “There are a lot of people wrinkling their brows and not fully understanding Norris caters to day trippers. I think it brings an entirely new demographic to the Downtown.”

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