Developers breathe new life into Fondren with revived Capri, restaurant, tiki bar
FONDREN — The renovated Capri theater here on State Street will feature 178 reclinable seats and theatergoers will be able to order food from the restaurant and tiki bar next door through kiosks in the lobby before the movie starts — or from a QR code for each seat.
The trio of entertainment destinations is set to bring more than 100 jobs to the Fondren area of Northeast Jackson anchored by the Capri, dormant for more than 30 years, as developers nail down an opening date.
Madison County's Charlotte McCoy Brown has fond memories of the Capri in its heyday since she and her would-be husband had their first date there.
"Bobby and I had our first date at the Capri Theatre in December of 1969," she wrote on Facebook. "We saw 'On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,' a James Bond movie." They sat in the third row because "I wouldn’t put my glasses on. Loved this theatre!"
Hattiesburg restauranteur Robert St. John said developers hope to open the 25,000-square-foot development on State Street within the next two or three weeks.
St. John is one of the managing partners of the development that includes the Capri, The Pearl tiki bar and the Highball Lanes restaurant, bar and 10-lane bowling alley.
“We are in that phase of development,” St. John said, adding that within the next two weeks, they hope to nail down dates to hold soft openings for the restaurant and bar area and be open to the public for regular hours shortly after that.
Jarred Patterson, another managing partner of the operation, said that an ambitious opening for the theater would be the Jan. 14 release of “Scream.”
Patterson said The Pearl would feature its own selections with a menu inspired by Chinese, Polynesian and other cuisines. He said the Capri menu would be derived from the selections available at the Highball with a few theater-specific selections like candy, popcorn and specialty fries and nachos.
“I would call it American with a fair amount of Cajun influence,” Patterson said of the broader menu.
The Highball sits at the location of the former Seabrook paint store, and developers said they added an additional six or seven thousand square feet to the back for the bowling lanes and a wall-length mural showcasing pieces of the neighborhood’s history.
A fourth restaurant is in the works as part of the development. St. John’s Hattiesburg-based burger restaurant called Ed’s Burger Joint is planned to go in next door to the Capri in an old yoga studio, though construction has not yet begun on that phase of the project.
The project was designed by Wier Boerner Allin Architecture, also located in Fondren, and is being built by AnderCorp, a contractor of Gulfport.
The development has been at least 10 years in the making since developer David Pharr and his partner Jason Watkins acquired the theater. Pharr said they originally planned to run the theater and rent the other spaces to existing tenants, but as those spaces became available, they began to consider the expanded concept that is nearing reality.
“The theater has been such a central part of Fondren historically,” Pharr said. “We hope this brings some life and vibrancy.”
Watkins and Pharr actively helped with the process to get Fondren on the register of historical places, which has afforded them state and federal tax credits to make their project a reality.
“Historical buildings are often more expensive to renovate, and that helped offset the costs,” Pharr said.
About four years ago, they brought St. John on to bring his expertise to the restaurant and bar aspects of the project. St. John said he was quickly interested in being a part of their project.
“It did not take a lot of convincing,” St. John said.
What is now known as the Capri was opened as The Pix in 1940 and showed movies until 1957, when it shut down for a time. The building reopened in 1962 as the Capri and was shuttered by 1986, said Pharr, the unofficial historian of the group.
In those years, the theater went through ups and downs. It hosted the premiere of Alan Rudolph’s 1972 hippie horror flick, “Premonition.” At its height, the theater reportedly had about 500 seats. Separate retail spaces in front of the theater also housed early iterations The Rogue, a staple for fine men’s wear in Jackson, and the now-defunct Be-Bop Record Shop.
By the early ’80s, management had switched to second-run films and infamously operated as a XXX theater for some time.
Fondren saw a notable decline through the ’80s, and Pharr said was hit hard by the crack epidemic in the ’90s. Chase, a business in Fondren that prints T-shirts and mugs, has a mug that reads “Fondren: not just for crack and hookers anymore.”
Pharr said organizations such as St. Dominic Hospital and the Fondren Renaissance Foundation have invested in the community. Over the past decade, an explosion of restaurants has cemented Fondren as a center for Jackson nightlife and good food and drink.
“We are grateful for those who came before us, and we plan on being good neighbors,” Pharr said.
St. John said business owners in Fondren tend to see themselves as “a part of a whole” and that he has already built great relationships with the ownership and staff of many of the neighboring restaurants.
“There is a real sense of community here,” St. John said. “I think everyone around here knows that a rising tide lifts all ships.”
As The Pearl, Highball Lanes and The Capri move closer to welcoming guests, St John said that they are still hiring and holding interviews for a number of positions almost every day.
“We are still hiring,” St. John said. “If you are looking to work in a cool, fun place, this is it.”
Applications for all three spaces are available here.