Though its leader is gone, Johnnie High's revue will go on

ARLINGTON -- No one believed that "the show must go on" more fervently than Johnnie High.

Though the softhearted North Texas starmaker died Wednesday at age 80, relatives and cast members say that Johnnie High's Country Music Revue will most certainly continue.

"It surely will," said Ashley Smith, High's granddaughter and the show's co-host. It was even High's wish that his memorial, which will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, be held at the Arlington Music Hall.

"They're doing some construction on the building, but the crowds are pretty much the same," she said.

Others also expect the old movie theater at Division and Center streets that High's show has called home since 1995 to be a big part of a downtown revitalization effort.

Renovations to the Music Hall should be completed by July. The 1,200-seat Music Hall, which is being expanded by 3,500 square feet, will also be the new home of Symphony Arlington and will host touring musical and comedy acts, as well as High's Saturday night revue.

Although there will be no revue this week, operations should appear seamless as High had been on and off the stage since last summer, revue regular Michael Hix said.

High had not attended for the past month, but before that, he would share master of ceremonies duties with Hix and his granddaughter.

Smith and Hix will now serve as co-hosts.

"It is his family show, a family legacy," said Hix, whom High would introduce onstage as "the grandson I never had." Hix first performed at the revue in 2004 and became a regular in 2006. He often sang duets with Smith.

"Johnnie would just say, 'Here, come on and emcee with me,'" Hix said.

High was teaching him how to talk with the audience and joke with other regulars.

The next revue will be held as usual at 7:30 p.m. March 27 with Hix as host.

That's because Ashley Smith is expecting a baby, and her due date is March 25.

Alyssa Faith Rowan won't get to meet her great-grandfather, but High was excited about her arrival, Smith said.

High, a consummate planner and doer of deals where his revue was concerned, had envisioned the future of the Center Street corridor since he bought the old movie theater and opened it as the Arlington Music Hall. He had been involved in the arrangements that are bringing businesses to the area.

"It's an exciting time for the Music Hall and the show," Hix said. "It's just tragic that Johnnie can't be here for it."

Downtown plans

Although behind schedule, construction on Center Street Station is well under way.

The long-awaited Babe's Chicken Dinner House, a family-style restaurant with locations in Roanoke, Frisco, Burleson and Granbury, could open by September or October.

"It's real exciting," said Ken Devero, the new president and CEO of the Downtown Arlington Management Corp. "That builds confidence in the rest of the development community."

Burk Collins, a Hurst developer who now owns the land, said the economic slowdown left the Center Street Station project in limbo.

"We hoped to open two years ago," Collins said. "We just had a difficult time getting financing."

Collins and Devero believe that Center Street Station will boost revitalization efforts downtown.

Babe's owner Paul Vinyard has said the Arlington location, which will seat 225, could bring in 350,000 patrons annually by its second year of operation.

"It's huge," said Collins, adding that Babe's success has attracted other restaurants and retailers in cities where it has opened. "This whole area downtown will change in the next five years."

Collins also announced plans Thursday for another restaurant for downtown Arlington: Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers. The restaurant, which has a location near Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, is expected to open in an addition to be built on the south side of the Music Hall.

Construction on the 6,000-square-foot restaurant could start within 90 days and would take six months, Collins said. A third restaurant, not yet announced, would also be on the south side.

In later phases, Collins plans to add apartments and retail space. He received a $1.2 million tax incentive from Arlington to help pay for infrastructure improvements for the first phase.

SHIRLEY JINKINS, 817-390-7657

SUSAN SCHROCK, 817-709-7578

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