Flicker of life for old Madison movie house

Closed theater bought for $225,000; owner vows to begin showing films by summer, after renovations

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Friday, March 25, 2005

ALBANY - The owner of an Amsterdam movie complex bought the former Madison Theater on Thursday, possibly saving it from the wrecking ball and vowing its silver screens will shine again this summer. "It will undergo repairs and renovations so it can open once again as a first-run multiplex movie theater," according to a statement from Joseph Tesiero, owner of the Diamond Cinema in Amsterdam.

One of Tesiero's companies, 1036-1040 Madison Avenue LLC, paid $225,000 for the 715- seat theater, according to CB Richard Ellis, a real estate firm that brokered the sale. The 1920s theater, vacant since 2003, had been eyed by the CVS chain that wanted it bulldozed to make way for a big-box pharmacy. Tesiero stated the theater will have a "soft opening, one theater at a time, and one movie at a time ... After listening to the Friends of the Madison, we are quite confident that the Pine Hills area wants their theater back and we will try our hardest to give them a theater that their community deserves."

However, the head of the neighborhood formed to save the Pine Hills cinema from destruction, said it was news to her. "This is the first that I've heard of this," said Anne Savage, head of Friends of the Madison. "We would very much like to have the theater opened again as a the ater."

Another Tesiero company, Riverfront Cinemas, will undertake the renovation project. Tesiero thanked Mayor Jerry Jennings "for getting this project started" and a major downtown developer - Omni Development Co. - for "putting us in touch with the city."

Last March, Tesiero dropped out of a multimillion-dollar movie complex planned in downtown Schenectady by the Metroplex Development Authority, leaving a hole in the ground, in which the authority had invested $3.75 million.

He left the project amid funding shortfalls and an ongoing battle with Metroplex over parking, security and other issues. M&T Bank, which was to finance the deal, offered $1 million less than it had originally promised.

"That was in the past. It is time to move forward," said Bruce Wendell, who manages the theater in Amsterdam for Tesiero. "We are going to focus on the Madison."

In Albany, screens at what was last called the Norma Jean Madison Theater, one of the city's oldest movie houses, went dark when it closed suddenly a month after the Manhattan-based Bank of New York foreclosed for $375,000.

Last year, the bank, which owned the theater through an affiliated company, No Frills Inc., dropped its asking price from $549,000 to $399,000, which was still well above what Tesiero ended up paying.

Also last year, the CVS pharmacy chain offered a plan to raze the theater to make way for a new 13,000-square-foot drugstore with drive-through service to replace a smaller CVS now located next door.

Neighbors protested and the city rebuffed the plan because the store's size exceeded zoning limits and lacked sufficient parking.

That parking problem had made it hard to find a buyer willing to keep the property as a theater. There are few off-street spaces around the theater, which is near the College of Saint Rose and surrounded by streets that are primarily residential.

Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or by e-mail at bnearing@timesunion.com.