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Fremont Theatre stays local — and it took just $6,000

Developer Rob Rossi bought John King’s 50 percent share in the historic Fremont Theatre and adjacent property that housed Mission Cinemas for $6,000 Tuesday at an auction in Los Angeles.
Developer Rob Rossi bought John King’s 50 percent share in the historic Fremont Theatre and adjacent property that housed Mission Cinemas for $6,000 Tuesday at an auction in Los Angeles. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The historic Fremont Theatre in downtown San Luis Obispo will stay in local hands after developer and former co-owner Rob Rossi on Tuesday bought the remaining shares of his business partner for the opening bid amount of $6,000.

Rob Rossi — who before Tuesday owned one-half share of the art deco-styled theater and an adjacent property that formerly housed the Mission Cinemas with local developer John King — was the sole bidder for the properties at the auction on the steps of the U.S. District Courthouse in Los Angeles.

Rossi said the property comes with “several millions of dollars” of debt, though he could not specify how much Tuesday. King’s shares were sold as the result of an $11.5 million judgment against him from a 2009 lawsuit.

Gloria Diaz, a deputy U.S. Marshal who oversaw the auction, confirmed that a representative for Rossi cast the sole bid for $6,000. According to the notice of sale, the bidding began at $6,000 and was to increase by $1,000 increments.

Paul Metchik, a San Luis Obispo attorney representing Orka Real Estate Partners, the judgment creditor in King’s lawsuit, did not return a request for comment.

The sale comes about eight years after a federal judge ruled against King and in favor of the lender, Rhode Island-based Textron Financial Corp., who alleged that King defaulted on loans of more than $14 million for a mixed-use project near Pismo Beach along Price Canyon Road, as well as Vaquero de los Robles LLC, a resort project in Paso Robles.

I had people even willing to say, ‘I’ll give you $100 (to help).’

Fremont Theatre owner Rob Rossi

Rossi previously told The Tribune that he was disappointed to lose his longtime partner in the theater, but he called the auctioning of King’s share “more or less just housekeeping.” He said he did not know what would become of the theater and accompanying properties should a third party win out on the auction.

On Tuesday evening, however, Rossi said he was thrilled there was no competitive bidding. He said that since a Tribune article first reported on the then-upcoming sale, he has been stopped on the street and encouraged to keep the properties local.

“I found it heartening in so many ways, people would catch me on the street ... I had people even willing to say, ‘I’ll give you $100 (to help),’ ” Rossi said. “It clearly demonstrated the importance of this (theater) to the community.”

The Fremont Theatre has reinvented itself as a live music and entertainment venue in recent years, attracting big-name acts with the help of local promoters. The business is turning a profit, Rossi said in April, and renovations, such as restroom remodeling and repair work, are underway. Rossi said the theater hopes to book as many as 150 acts by the end of the year.

If the city approves, the property of the old Mission Cinemas building next door to the Fremont will be home to a five-story mixed-use project called Fremont Square.

Rossi added that he takes his ownership of the local landmark seriously and plans to keep the business in the family for the foreseeable future.

“I plan on passing this to the kids. It will be in the hands of the next generation,” Rossi said.

Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909, @MattFountain1

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