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Corporate flexing... Last week, Pace Concerts announced its plans to invade Bayou Place in a fashion befitting its entertainment-empire status. Downtown at the Palace Cafe, tables and chairs were cleared and the cappuccino machines primed for the June 5 press conference. A crowd of about 80 or so media folks, local entertainment bizzers and Pace flacks packed the Palace to hear the news everyone had already read about in the Chronicle two days earlier: Theater at Bayou Place was a go.

Just a few blocks away, a spiffy yellow banner adorned with green and yellow balloons hung above Bayou Place's dingy-looking Texas Avenue entryway in anticipation of the media horde that would soon arrive for a tour of the multimillion-dollar entertainment mall. Like the project's other anchor tenants (so far, that includes a few restaurants and the eight-screen Angelika Film Center), Theater at Bayou Place is 60 percent completed, and it is set, claims developer David Cordish, to open sometime this fall. "But don't press me on whether it will be early or late fall," he adds. Given that it's only a few months until fall, and Bayou Place still resembles a crumbling monstrosity, I can see why he doesn't want to be pushed on dates.

Cordish is chairman of the Cordish Company, the Maryland firm charged with the task of transforming the old Albert Thomas Convention Center into a flashy nightlife destination. While the 130,000-square-foot complex will be covered with a roof, fewer side walls and roll-up, "garage door" entries to the various businesses are planned to give it an outdoorish, plaza-like feel. At the Palace Cafe, color sketches and floor plans of the new theater were propped on easels to show just how all this would work. And all the back slaps and pro-downtown rhetoric made it hard to avoid getting caught up in the hoopla.

Still, it's unlikely the folks at Rockefeller's are toasting the prospective success of Pace's latest Houston venture. Once thought to have a lock on a lease at Bayou Place, the owners of the club on Washington are no longer part of the Cordish Company's plans. It seems that Pace -- which manages 11 amphitheater-style "sheds" in this country and one in England -- was too much corporate muscle for Rockefeller's to handle. Indeed, when questioned at the press conference about the falling out between the club and Bayou Place, Cordish offered this painfully obvious truth:

"It's a question of putting the absolute best pieces together," he said. "[Pace] really are the best. You want to win the NBA championship, you've got to have a quality player. [That's] not a knock on anyone else; it's just a constant upgrade."

At 50,000 square feet, Pace's Theater at Bayou Place will eat up more than a third of the project's space. A "flexible seating design" will allow the venue to accommodate audiences ranging in size from 700 to 2,800 in cabaret-, festival- and theater-style settings. Upward of 140 events, from country, classical, jazz and rock concerts to theater productions and comedy shows, are planned for its first year. The venue is also being considered as an alternate home for arts organizations displaced by the upcoming reconstruction of the nearby Music Hall, and it may become an off-season site for Party on the Plaza.

Recent headlines would have one believe that Rockefeller's was dumped by Cordish. But Rockefeller's manager Branan Huthnance maintains that he was the one who took the initiative and bailed two months ago, when a year's worth of negotiations began to wither. The biggest snag? Because of restrictions on its liquor license, Rockefeller's couldn't go after beer company sponsorship. And that, says Huthnance, is "terribly important. The companies that love this kind of stuff are the beer companies. It's an easy match. We walked on the deal because we couldn't get any further [on that]."

But, Huthnance emphasizes, there are no sour grapes.
"I think it's a great project," he says. "This isn't about whining. This is about a business deal that didn't work out. The field artillery was just bigger on the other side."

New old blood... After 15 years, bassist Jim Mendenhall (a.k.a. Dr. Poison Zoomack) has relieved himself of his duties as bassist for Beans Barton and the Bi-Peds. Unlike many band-member departures, this one appears to have been 100 percent amicable. Mendenhall, who owns Dan Electro's Guitar Bar, plans on sitting in with Houston's most bizarre musical entity whenever the group plays his club -- which is quite often. Local six-string warhorse Jimmy Raycraft has emerged from semi-retirement to fill the hole in the Bi-Peds' roster. His credits over the years include work with Shake Russell, Herschel Berry and an '80s stint with his own band, the Dishes.

Etc.... Houston Tejano princes La Mafia recently had a profitable run-in with Goldie Hawn. The actress, who's in town directing a made-for-cable movie, rented the band's Houston Sound Studio to work on her film's soundtrack. In other La Mafia news, the band will sign copies of their new release, En Tus Manos (In Your Hands), Thursday at the Auchan Hypermart.

-- Hobart Rowland

 
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