In the Middle of the Night Thursday, Chili's Moved Out of the American Airlines Center

As of today, the Chili's in the American Airlines Center is no more. And, yes, you'll say, But of course, just like all the other restaurants that have shuttered in Victory Plaza. Only, this tale is a bit more complicated: The doors closed one last time just last night, but long before that lawsuits were filed, as was a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The timing is ironic, to say the least: It was almost one year ago to the day that the AAC trumpted the eatery's arrival via the pages of The Dallas Morning News, whose Karen Robinson-Jacobs wrote that a Chili's down there would give "sports fans, concertgoers and downtown Dallas residents a wallet-friendly dining option in the Victory Park area."

It was supposed to open in October of last year. It finally got going in December. And now, it's gone.

Says attorney Richard Pullman, who's representing franchisee Gilbert Aranza, "it's a sad story" that pits his client against Center Operating Company, the operating company for the American Airlines Center. COC's attorney, Joseph Friedman, says only, "I'm not at liberty to comment" because of the pile of pending litigation. Indeed, COC has already filed suit twice against Aranza's Base Holdings -- in Dallas County District Court and in Dallas County Justice of the Peace Court. Which is why, on July 6, Aranza filed for Chapter 11: According to the initial petition, it was "necessary to ensure that the Debtor's landlord would not attempt to terminate the Debtor's lease."

We'll have more on Tuesday, after we get a look at all the court documents -- so far, all we've seen are the Chapter 11 docs, including today's filings in which Center Operating Company makes it very clear it had no idea Base was moving out last night. (As in: "Late yesterday evening, September 3, 2009, the Debtor commenced a 'midnight' move out of the Chili's Restaurant located at American Airlines Center. Tables, chairs and other furniture and equipment were removed from the restaurant premises.") But this much is clear: The litigation over the AAC Chili's will last longer than the eatery did.

Update at 4:46 p.m.: Earlier this afternoon, I asked Rick Ericson at LeMaster Group, which handles PR for Tom Hicks and the American Airlines Center, about the closing. Moments ago, he sent me this statement from Brad Mayne, president of Center Operating Company:

"Of course, we are disappointed that the franchisee has closed the store that everyone hoped would attract new customers to Victory Park. COC has been working diligently for several months to assist the restaurant operator and continue the Chili's operations. Therefore, we were surprised that this action was taken and especially that it occurred in this manner. Obviously, we will examine all possibilities for the best future utilization of this space."