Art house cinema, restaurant planned on Indy’s near-east side

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A new art house cinema and restaurant could be coming to Indianapolis’ east side as early as next spring.

Father-and-son team Tom and Ed Battista along with business partner Sam Sutphin have purchased the Christian Unity Missionary Baptist Church at 1258 Windsor St., a block from Spades Park and about a mile east of downtown's Mass Ave district, with hopes of opening a three-screen independent cinema and eatery.

The project is expected to cost between $1 million and $2 million. The Battistas declined to reveal the building's purchase price. The assessed value of the property in 2016 was $242,900, according to city records.

The group has partnered with Public House Cinema founders Daniel Jacobson and Dusty Frey to operate the cinema, which would show art house, independent and foreign films that ordinarily wouldn’t reach Indianapolis.

“We would love to that center where, if you love the art of film, this is a place that you can go get a drink, get some food and also see something that will spark conversation and spark community,” Jacobson said.

The Battistas own the trendy Bluebeard restaurant at 653 Virginia Ave., which has been widely credited with helping develop the Fletcher Place neighborhood and the wider Virginia Avenue corridor as culinary hotspots.

The Battistas and Sutphin, a film enthusiast, had been searching for a cinema space for about four years. Tom Battista said the partners looked in every downtown Indianapolis neighborhood and considered as many as 20 different spaces.

“We just don’t have cinema here in this town that caters to the art-movie crowd,” Tom Battista said. “I think that’s expanded all over the country now but not here, and it's necessary for our city.”

Jacobson said Keystone Art Cinema at the Fashion Mall at Keystone is the only place offering a similar home for art cinema.

“We’ve done research, and of the top 20 populated cities in the U.S., there are only three that are lacking an independent art house theater and we are one of them,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson and Frey have been looking to cinemas and art houses in Fort Wayne and Nashville, Tennessee, for inspiration.

Jacobson said the team hopes to provide an outlet for local filmmakers. He said said Christian Unity Missionary Baptist Church’s proximity to Spades Park and Spades Park Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library also presents potential partnerships for educational programming and weekend film festivals in the neighborhood.

The church was built in 1924. Renovations on the 14,000-square-foot building will focus mainly on adding the restaurant's kitchen and installing cinema seating and soundproofing.

Tom Battista said a major goal for the project is to keep the character of the church while providing high-quality technology.

Prospective chefs have been contacted for the farm-to-table style restaurant and bar that would accompany the theater, Ed Battista said. The restaurant would be in a lobby area before entering the theaters. Food would be served independently of buying tickets for movies, and food would not be served in the theaters.

“Instead of being just herded straight toward the door, we’re hoping people will want to mix and mingle and turn it into a social event alongside of a movie,” Ed Battista said. “We want it to be really welcoming and open environment to try to connect with our neighbors.”

Ed Battista emphasized his goal of working within the growing Windsor Park neighborhood, noting several restaurants set to open in the near future on 10th Street.

The Battistas, who own several properties adjacent to the Christian Unity Missionary Baptist Church, plan to open an extension of their Fletcher Place-based bakery Amelia’s nearby, with a greater emphasis on coffee and pastries.

Ed Battista said he also has met with officials at the nearby John H. Boner Community Center to create employment opportunities for those living in the Windsor Place neighborhood.

“Service and expectations really drive these kinds of food and entertainment businesses, so it’s trying to set the expectation properly that this isn’t the Walmart of cinema, that it's a different kind of experience,” Ed Battista said. “You shouldn’t expect to get the same thing you would get at these chain commercial theaters. It will be a little different.”

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