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Opinion: Spotlight's on more than comedy club stage

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The wait is over at College Station downtown, but does that mean the tenants will be sustainable?
Three years and two leasing agents after developer Scott Tillman built the $12 million complex, with funding support through the city and state, including $8 million from the city for a 400-space parking garage, the space's first tenant emerged in the form of a comedy club and restaurant. Just last week, a nonprofit office user popped its head in and signed on the dotted line. This is all welcome news considering the space was drawn up for a mix of restaurant, retail and office users but had only secured 14-screen Hollywood Theaters across the street.
The recent activity suggests the first real momentum for the development since the theater opened in late 2008. The only tangible activity since is the path worn through the grass by moviegoers coming from the city's other parking deck, Heer's Car Park, to the east and north of the cinema. Perhaps this speaks to a less than symbiotic relationship between Hollywood Theaters and College Station, where ample parking exists.
The question now is whether the new tenants - Nine of Clubs, Steak-Out and Hamels Foundation - are here to stay. Arriving at an answer starts with considering how critical a businessperson's past is to his future endeavors.
The subject here is Nine of Clubs comedy club visionary Travis Dibben, who has a short and less-than-stellar business track record, namely a failed experiment called Upper Deck Sports Bar in Nixa.
Springfield Business Journal readers certainly noticed, voicing their concerns and opinions when we ran Dibben's photo on our Sept. 26 cover.
Readers pointed out Dibben's 46 records of court activity on Missouri CaseNet, including breaches of contract, mechanic's and tax liens, and a landlord complaint dating back to 2003.
Dibben and company can pull this off with the right comedy acts and quality, and the foundational Steak-Out restaurant concept. But will they? More specifically, will history repeat itself? Will his failed sports bar set precedent for the comedy club, or will Dibben demonstrate that he learned from it?
As one who believes in second chances through grace, I hope Dibben's concept works, for his own sake and for the sake of downtown. Center City needs a vibrant College Station, not as bad as it needs the Heer's redeveloped or imploded, but Tillman's development definitely is a core element. Another key cog is Park Central Square, which reopens with a splash in early November. There are some who doubt the upgrades were worth the costs and wonder if they'll even be noticeable, while others have expressed burnout of another square closing and reopening. Been there, done that, they say, so what's the big deal?
With College Station a block west of the square, these developments should complement one another during evening business hours. It's reasonable to expect comedy club patrons spilling out into the square and strolling into other businesses for drinks or grub.
From a landlord's perspective, this has got to be bittersweet. Tillman can be delighted to shore up a couple of tenants, but if there are questions on the integrity of the deal based on past experiences, uneasiness would arise.
It wouldn't be the first time a relationship between Tillman and a tenant turned tense. 
In mid-2009, Hollywood Theaters filed a federal lawsuit against College Station LLC claiming Tillman failed to repay more than half of a $1.6 million cash allowance agreed upon in the theater chain's 20-year lease signed in August 2005. Tillman's counterclaim alleged that Hollywood breached its contract.
This current deal has got to be worth the risk. Simply put, a new tenant is better than no new tenants, even if that tenant were to fail after some time. As long as Dibben's money is green and his rent is current, Tillman and his real estate agent can use that momentum during other negotiations.
The linchpin is whether Dibben's plan is magnetic or repugnant. The spotlight is on more than the comedy club stage.
Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.
The wait is over at College Station downtown, but does that mean the tenants will be sustainable?

Three years and two leasing agents after developer Scott Tillman built the $12 million complex, with funding support through the city and state, including $8 million from the city for a 400-space parking garage, the space's first tenant emerged in the form of a comedy club and restaurant. Just last week, a nonprofit office user popped its head in and signed on the dotted line. This is all welcome news considering the space was drawn up for a mix of restaurant, retail and office users but had only secured 14-screen Hollywood Theaters across the street.

The recent activity suggests the first real momentum for the development since the theater opened in late 2008. The only tangible activity since is the path worn through the grass by moviegoers coming from the city's other parking deck, Heer's Car Park, to the east and north of the cinema. Perhaps this speaks to a less than symbiotic relationship between Hollywood Theaters and College Station, where ample parking exists.

The question now is whether the new tenants - Nine of Clubs, Steak-Out and Hamels Foundation - are here to stay. Arriving at an answer starts with considering how critical a businessperson's past is to his future endeavors.

The subject here is Nine of Clubs comedy club visionary Travis Dibben, who has a short and less-than-stellar business track record, namely a failed experiment called Upper Deck Sports Bar in Nixa.

Springfield Business Journal readers certainly noticed, voicing their concerns and opinions when we ran Dibben's photo on our Sept. 26 cover.

Readers pointed out Dibben's 46 records of court activity on Missouri CaseNet, including breaches of contract, mechanic's and tax liens, and a landlord complaint dating back to 2003.

Dibben and company can pull this off with the right comedy acts and quality, and the foundational Steak-Out restaurant concept. But will they? More specifically, will history repeat itself? Will his failed sports bar set precedent for the comedy club, or will Dibben demonstrate that he learned from it?

As one who believes in second chances through grace, I hope Dibben's concept works, for his own sake and for the sake of downtown. Center City needs a vibrant College Station, not as bad as it needs the Heer's redeveloped or imploded, but Tillman's development definitely is a core element. Another key cog is Park Central Square, which reopens with a splash in early November. There are some who doubt the upgrades were worth the costs and wonder if they'll even be noticeable, while others have expressed burnout of another square closing and reopening. Been there, done that, they say, so what's the big deal?

With College Station a block west of the square, these developments should complement one another during evening business hours. It's reasonable to expect comedy club patrons spilling out into the square and strolling into other businesses for drinks or grub.

From a landlord's perspective, this has got to be bittersweet. Tillman can be delighted to shore up a couple of tenants, but if there are questions on the integrity of the deal based on past experiences, uneasiness would arise.

It wouldn't be the first time a relationship between Tillman and a tenant turned tense. 

In mid-2009, Hollywood Theaters filed a federal lawsuit against College Station LLC claiming Tillman failed to repay more than half of a $1.6 million cash allowance agreed upon in the theater chain's 20-year lease signed in August 2005. Tillman's counterclaim alleged that Hollywood breached its contract.

This current deal has got to be worth the risk. Simply put, a new tenant is better than no new tenants, even if that tenant were to fail after some time. As long as Dibben's money is green and his rent is current, Tillman and his real estate agent can use that momentum during other negotiations.

The linchpin is whether Dibben's plan is magnetic or repugnant. The spotlight is on more than the comedy club stage.
 
 
Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.
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