Staying in one place just isn't in Edwin Cabaniss' nature. Before he reopened The Kessler Theater six years ago, Cabaniss had been a successful businessman — so successful that he could afford to retire in his early 40s. Now that his "retirement" has seen him rebuild The Kessler into one of Dallas' most popular music venues, he's set his sights on yet another challenge: expansion.
As reported Monday by The Leader News, Cabaniss is closing in on plans to purchase the iconic Heights Theater in Houston, where he hopes to replicate the vibe and success of The Kessler. His bid for the property has already been accepted by the current owners, with the sale — given that the Heights was recently designated a historical landmark — being passed to the city planning commission on August 20 for approval.
If all goes according to plan, the Heights could reopen as soon as early 2016.
"We've created something that I think is a little bit of a unique niche and I think we can replicate it in other major markets," Cabaniss says of his plans for the Heights. He's been searching for a second location both in Dallas and other cities for the past couple years. "We've had numerous opportunities to be tenants in spaces that are pretty cool projects. Ultimately we decided we really need to have ownership where we control the process from the very beginning to the very end."
Houston has always been on Cabaniss' "short list," not only because of its size but also because its proximity to Dallas opened the door to "block booking" artists touring through Texas — essentially, booking them at venues in multiple cities. "We found the Heights [neighborhood] and really fell in love with it, then we found the Heights Theater and that was about a year ago," Cabaniss recalls. The theater wasn't for sale at the time, but it went on the market last April. That's when the old business instincts kicked in: "I'm not sure if I had the highest offer or not, but I wrote a letter to the sellers about what the future of the theater would look like under our ownership."
Cabaniss must've been persuasive, and certainly he speaks passionately about the idea of preserving historic spaces. "Most people don't realize The Kessler was actually my sixth instance of what I call 'adapted reuse' of historic property," Cabaniss explains. "I can go into a space and visualize it if you at least give me a start."
The Heights, which was built in 1928 and originally served as a single-screen movie theater, has a history that parallels The Kessler: It was gutted by a fire in 1968 and was closed for 20 years before being renovated and reopened as an art gallery. It has the same classic art deco exterior of its Oak Cliff counterpart, with almost identical dimensions. Cabaniss' plan is to try to base the new layout off of the blueprints for the Kessler.
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Much of The Kessler's success is due to its community-driven approach and its staff's attention to detail, which includes Artistic Director Jeffrey Liles and front of house Paul Quigg. Cabaniss is already working on recruiting a team who can follow in their footsteps down in Houston.
"Of course we'll rely on Paul and Jeff for their expertise to really lay out and set the tone and set the culture of the people we put in there," Cabaniss says. "Some of those folks we've already identified, but of course we're not opening the doors tomorrow so we've got six or seven months to finalize things."
One way or another, though, Cabaniss was never going to settle with the success of the one venue. That's not the way he's wired. "Other folks may be just as happy to have one venue and that's all they do the rest of their lives, and that's great," Cabaniss says. "I could've left well enough alone with The Kessler. But if I have a chance to replicate it, why not give it a shot? If I can do it twice, why not do it three times?"