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Highland Park Theatre Costs $90K to Reopen

City Council questions whether or not to spend $90,000 to fix theater's fire code violations.

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.

Earlier:

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."

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Stuart Senescu August 02, 2012 at 02:44 PM
My assumption is that most HP movie business is done in the evening and on the weekend, especially after Labor Day when schools are back in session. So what businesses on Central east of the tracks are open at night? Just the restaurants. From walking around in the evenings this summer, the closed theaters don't seemed to have hurt Nortons, Hot Tamales, Sushi Kushi, Los Palmas and the new organic restaurant. Or any of the other restaurants and ice cream places on the east side of town. Investing money in an old deteriorating building is throwing it away. How modern is the electrical system in the building, the roof, the water/sewer system? Can the City recover $90,000 over the next two or three years? The City should put the building up for sale and cut its losses. Mandel may not want to see the building 'dark' but there are other empty stores in downtown HP, should the city try to open those or do we let the market place decide. In my neighborhood there are two large commercial buildings which have been empty for about eight years, I don't see any news about the Council's concern for the Western Ave business district. Tear the building down, plant grass, put in some benches and put the lot up for sale. Don't throw good money after bad.
David Greenberg August 02, 2012 at 04:17 PM
The City never should have purchased the Theater to begin with, that was $2 million that was not well-spent. Now we come to find out that the Theater is not safe, and it'll cost about $90K to bring it up to safety codes for one screen. If the Theater made money, it might be a good investment, but when you consider that it LOSES $43,000/year you then have to consider whether or not this investment will rectify that negative ROI. Given that movie theaters are a lousy business that essentially don't make any money except from concessions for new releases, and make a small amount from ticket sales + concessions for "old" releases, you need a lot of screens and low costs to make it work as a business model. We have precisely the opposite. ONE screen, and high costs with a negative ROI already. Homeowners have sound/video systems that rival if not best that which is available in the Theater, with more convenience and other plusses that outweigh going to the Theater. Theater attendance is down across-the-board, continues to decline, and has been for years. If I had to evaluate this as a business - my professional recommendation would be "DON'T SPEND ANOTHER DIME ON IT. LEAVE IT CLOSED. SELL IT "AS IS"'. I'm not willing to pay MORE in taxes to support a lousy, failing business model. And I'm not willing to use reserves to pump money into a lousy, failing business model either. It's time to move on and stop fooling around with this albatross. Sell it "AS IS".
Steve Firestone August 03, 2012 at 01:59 PM
I'm glad there are discussions about selling and redeveloping the theater. I still think that bringing it back to it's large theater/one screen glory would be the best avenue for profit. These days with 70" screens in our houses, and home theater sound, we all have a small theater at home. I believe the best way to attract people is to have a large clean comfortable theater with a large screen. Of course, the next step is to be picky about what movies to show. The newer and better the movies the more you can charge. Bring back the Alcyon!!!
Louis G. Atsaves August 03, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Would the city sit still if a vacant home existed with fire code violations, or would it force the owners to fix them? Either way, if the city sells the building or reopens it, it will need to fix the fire code violations.
David Greenberg August 03, 2012 at 05:42 PM
If they reopen it, yes, they have to cure the defects. If they sell it, the cost of the cure is on the buyer. Either they tear it down and put something else in it's place that's to whatever code is applicable, or they continue to operate it and bring it up to code on their dime...

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