Highland Park Fire Chief Pat Tanner handed the City Council some bad news about the at its last meeting: it will cost $90,000 in safety upgrades just to reopen one of the theater's four screens.
The city shut down the theater as well as the Port Clinton parking garage on May 5 when it was revealed that both structures . Repairs began on the garage almost immediately, and it The theater, however, has remained closed for months.
"Port Clinton garage went from being an extremely active and integral part of downtown to being closed," City Councilman Tony Blumberg explained to Patch on Tuesday. "That's not what happened with the theater."
Blumberg is hesitant to spend $90,000 to reopen the theater's main screen because the theater was not nearly as busy as the Port Clinton garage even when all four screens were open. Last year the theater lost $43,000, according to the Highland Park News.
"We were considerably in the red before it closed," City Councilman Steve Mandel said. "We are obviously looking at the feasibility of a business model."
Sunken costs on a downtown anchor
Additionally, the city would like to eventually sell the theater to a private entity, which means any investment the city makes into the theater in the meantime will become sunk money, according to Highland Park resident and real estate developer Jon Plotikin.
"The reality is $9 or $90,000, that's sunk money that's not going to be recovered once the space is handed over," Plotkin said.
Unless the city is close to handing the theater off to a buyer, however, Plotkin believes it should spend the money to reopen one screen in order to help draw shoppers to the surrounding businesses.
"I think it's very important that it open as soon as possible," Plotkin said. "Unless the city has a viable plan to sell or redevelop the property, it really has no choice but to spend the money."
Mandel sounded inclined to agree when he spoke with Patch on Tuesday.
"I am very motivated to get that theater open," Mandel said. "What we don't want to see is that thing dark."
Full renovation could mean higher taxes
A jammed emergency exit door, a stairway blocked by a dumpster, an HVAC unit that needs to be replaced are just a few of the costs that contribute to the $90,000 price tag to bring the theater up to code. Currently, the city rents air conditioning units for the theater that cost about $2,300 per month. The electricity just to power the theater's marquee costs $500 monthly, which is as much as it costs to power the rest of the theater.
The theater's curtain also needs to be replaced with one that's not flammable, and that alone will cost $8,000, according to Blumberg.
"The economy of opening a single screen is not great," Blumberg said.
Blumberg believes that reopening the theater would only be a boost for the surrounding businesses if it were completely renovated, which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars at minimum and could either deplete the city's reserves or require a tax increase.
The councilman is curious to see if the merchants on the east end of Central Avenue did more business this time last year than this year.
"If there is a significant difference, then there would be some sense to opening a theater that is losing money if on the other hand that money is being made up in tax revenue," Blumberg said.
Plotkin said that any activity on the east end of Central Avenue is helpful. He called the shuttered theater an embarrassment and expressed concern at the prospect of the theater remaining closed past the summer.
"That would mean going into the holiday season with a dark space at that end," Plotkin said, "Which does not bode well for merchants up and down the street."
Finding a reasonable approach
In the meantime, Mandel plans to press on in hopes of getting the theater reopened. He said he would bring up the cost of opening all four theaters at the next city council meeting.
"What I hope to do is try to find a reasonable approach to getting the theater open as soon as possible," Mandel said.
Blumberg would like to find that approach as well, but he seems hesitant that such a solution exists. He told Patch that City Manager David Knapp has begun asking department heads to suggest alternative uses for the theater, either temporarily or long-term.
"I would be very excited to see it returned to its former splendor" Blumberg said. "I'm skeptical, but I'm open minded."