The historic River Oaks Theater returns

The River Oaks Theatre is getting a new lease on life after property owner Kimco Realty announced Wednesday that the theater would be reopened under a new leaseholder — Star Cinema Grill, a Houston-based dine-in-theater cinema chain.

The theater will keep its design and arthouse charm while also receiving enhancements in the form of custom-made seating and an upgraded food and beverage program, according to Jason Ostrow, vice president of development at Star Cinema Grill.

“The soul of the theater is gonna remain,” Ostrow said. “The architecture, the programming, The Rocky Horror Picture (Show screenings). All of that stuff that made the theater special, we’re gonna keep.”

Ostrow added that the reopening process is in its early stages and that the theater would hopefully be open by the end of the year.

The theater shut its doors in March 2021 for the first time since opening in 1939 after lease negotiations fell through between then-property owner Weingarten Realty and Landmark Theatres, which had previously operated the cinema since 1976. The closure resulted in an emotional candlelight vigil held outside of the theater after its final showing, where many spoke about their personal connection to the theater and the community it fostered.

The future of River Oaks Theatre was left uncertain in the months that followed, until Kimco Realty acquired the River Oaks Shopping Center in August 2021 after its merger with Weingarten. Negotiations between Star Cinema Grill and Kimco took place over “many, many, many” months until the lease was finally signed, according to Ostrow.

Maureen McNamara, a former River Oaks Theatre manager of 23 years, helped found the nonprofit Friends of the River Oaks Theatre to push for the conservation of the historic landmark after it closed. Now, nearly one year later, McNamara says they can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

“I think it’s fantastic, amazing, wonderful,” McNamara said. “If we can end up in some kind of partnership with these guys…we have strong connections to the film community and it could just be a total win-win situation for the theater.”