Left In Lowell

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July 7, 2012

Enough Movie Buffs?

by at 8:40 am.

I want this to succeed:

Now, a group of movie-loving Lowellians with downtown connections has been meeting quietly in hopes of returning just a little piece of the majesty to the downtown business district by opening an independent movie theater.

During the last several months, the group has studied the rich movie-house history of Lowell, taken road trips to numerous urban movie houses throughout New England, researched the projection and sound equipment needed for a venue, developed capital equipment and operating budgets, drafted the necessary nonprofit legal documents, and toured about 15 potential sites in downtown Lowell.

The current concept is for a downtown site, 2,500 to 4,000 square-feet with 75 to 125 seats. It would show everything — from popular box-office second-run titles to classic and Golden Age movies to award-winning and festival-circuit films to documentaries to midnight screenings of cult favorites — six days and nights per week with periodic film festivals and filmmaker events.

It would be a gathering place for movie lovers of all ages, from students to seniors,” said lawyer Michael Gallagher, who is among those leading the effort. “It would be clean and neat, and have a contemporary feel with first-rate projection and sound equipment.”

I grew up watchng the greats. To this day, my favorite actors are Henry Fonda & Jimmy Stewart. This is not to take away from modern day films. My facebook page longs for the release of the next Peter Jackson movie, The Hobbit. But the classics relied more on actors, than special effects. The scripts were more nuanced, allowing the actors to fill in the difference with facial expressions and body language. These actors studied people. Each scene was a tutorial on the human condition.

Okay, I’m back. They were awesome. We don’t truly appreciate their craft, as much as we should. So, such a theatre would allow for us to reexperience these artists. That would be wonderful.

Further, some films are just fun or quirky. I’d love to take my daughters to see the Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense or the Scorcese film The Last Waltz.

Your taste in cinema may vary. It’s all good. If the folks behind this effort get the formula correct, Lowell will be that much better for it.

21 Responses to “Enough Movie Buffs?”

  1. Right In Lowell Says:

    A suggestion… get rid of that stagnant Act Blue thermometer and start a new one to show support for the theatre.

  2. Joe S. Says:

    I certainly agree with your sentiments. And I applaud the group that is taking on this initiative. But it will not be easy.

    There is a need for a robust business plan, not only for the initial cost, but the sustaining operations. Apparently the financial outlook is not sufficient to justify a new building operation similar to the one initially proposed for the Hamilton Canal District. That was obvious from the outset, when Trinity declared a plan for parcel 5 for a 450 seat theater, but qualified that with “If this use proves not to be feasible, Parcel 5 will be used for additional housing on the island, in the alternative program.” It is too bad that alternative has become the baseline plan, but with the economy lagging it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

    So the target has been reduced to a nominal 100 seats, and the renovation of an existing building in order to take advantage of the current real estate depression. That reduced target will likely make the initial investment affordable through fund-raising. But sustaining that over the long term may still be a challenge. And unless a good plan is in place for that, fund-raising contributors may be reluctant to jump in.

    Will the City make some level of commitment like it currently does for the Auditorium and the MRT? If the people want this, and I think many do, they may be able to influence the city council to support it as a non-profit entity.

  3. Joe S. Says:

    With the target audience quite small, there may be an option for technology to help out with the costs. Rather than invest a lot of money in film projection equipment, it may be wise to consider high definition DVD projection. And the recurring cost for DVDs may be a lot less, and the availability higher.

    And when there are slow times for whatever reason, the movie could be replaced with other arts and entertainment options to keep the revenue flowing.

  4. Paul Belley Says:

    Jack
    I applaude this effort to bring a movie theater back to Lowell. But the venues they are looking at are small in my opinon.I don’t think they are sustainable with the tecnology that is needed to have a state of the art theater. Example.. I went to Chunkys last evening to see “Ted” the sound system was awful and at 7.50 a ticket it was what it was. I miss the old Strand and have great memories going there as a kid but I believe to sustain a longterm viable business as a movie theater you need more seating.

    Just thinking out loud that the Thondike Factory Outlet would be a great space…Just saying. THANKS To Mike Gallagher and his group for there efforts to bring this forward.

  5. George DeLuca Says:

    Not sure about large vs. small. The newly renovated Lowell National Park Visitors Center Theater is terrific. I’m not in the loop, but it appears to be the model.

    What I like about the Thorndike Factory Outlet idea is its proximity to Gallagher depot to take advantage of the train and future trolley. Location wise, anywhere downtown would do as long as the street noise is remediated.

    As I understand it, the coalition is in planning stage and open to ideas. Keep ‘em coming.

    I like the strength of the coalition and have total confidence in their planning capabilities relative to film venue, logistics and location in Downtown Lowell.

    Thanks to Suzz, Michael, et ux for their continued efforts.

  6. George DeLuca Says:

    That’s “et al”.

  7. Joe S. Says:

    I wouldn’t be a fan of the Thorndike outlet. It may be good when considering the theater as a stand-alone activity, but the true benefit of a downtown theater will be a further stimulus to retail businesses in the area, particularly restaurants. The theater should be considered as a piece of the larger economic picture.

  8. Jack Says:

    I like the Thorndike property better as a business center, no retail. There isn’t enough parking available for a “Thorndike Mall” type endeavor. Plus, we are struggling to sustain retail in the downtown.

    A downtown theatre would be another “magnet” to lure the condo dwellers out onto the streets.

    I tend to want the “focus” of Lowell’s entrepreneurial spirit to diffuse away from the downtown, but a small “niche” theatre is perfectly suited for that neighborhood.

  9. Greg Page Says:

    I don’t see a theater as a niche audience thing..to me, it’s the opposite. A movie theater downtown or in any other neighborhood (that is, somewhere that’s actually part of a neighborhood, not just something out by itself on the edge of the city limits) is a legitimate entertainment draw with wide appeal. The way I see it, you’ve got the high schoolers, the college kids (esp. the ones who are under 21 who are in that awkward I’m-an-adult-now-but-can’t-go-out-to-most-entertainment-venues-in-the-city stage), family people, singles looking for a date activity, old people, come to think about, just about everyone. Plus, movies appeal across all demographics, ethnic groups, etc. in a way that other entertainment just honestly doesn’t.

    As far as the MRT, many of the shows there are prohibitively expensive for people on a budget, and they don’t appeal to a very wide swathe of the community.

    I remember being really excited at one of those Trinity presentations about the HCD when the guy talked about a “theater.” “Finally,” I told him, “we’re getting what downtown Lowell really needs. Movies appeal to all types of people and they will bring people out into the streets like the way the theater on Moody St. in Waltham does.” [h/t to Jack’s comment #8].

    His response: “Oh, no, no, I wasn’t talking about a movie theater. This would be a performing arts theater.”

    My look of disappointment was my way of saying that Lowell needs another performing arts theater the way it needs another Irish-themed bar downtown. Or maybe 6 more Frozen Yogurt shops later this year.

    At the risk of sounding like I’m cheerleading, I honestly think that somebody who *gets it right* with a theater won’t have to look for any kind of subsidies, special deals from the city, or anything of the sort. I see a big win here, and a magnet into whatever area this winds up in that will have a big spillover effect on businesses nearby.

    Oh, and all the props in the world to the Gallaghers, the Cromwells, and whoever else is putting the muscle into this. Good ideas are a dime a dozen, and the real difficulty is always in the implementation.

  10. Jack Says:

    Hell, if the stars align, the ideal venue could support performance art, as well. “Off East Merrimack,” anyone?

  11. Lola Says:

    Much depends on the film choice. The single screen at Newburyport reflects my tastes, but not the wide appeal cited by Greg.

  12. George DeLuca Says:

    Spot on Greg …
    I remember the Strand, Rialto, Royal and RKO Keith theaters. People of all ages would come to downtown Lowell from the surrounding neighborhoods.

    Man it would be great to see something along those lines happen again. It can be smaller like the LNHP Visitors Center with an expansion plan built into the business plan, just in case its needed.

    If its not downtown, it would work near one or both of the colleges. Downtown as a location would cover all three.

  13. Fireball615 Says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the Royal theater on Merrimack St. Sure it needs a “little” work but it is still a mostly intact movie house. Projection room, balcony, stage etc.

  14. George DeLuca Says:

    Another ideal location would be 74 Middlesex St., originally the Crown Theater built in 1917. The facade is perfect with marquis potential.

    Recently it was the Kun Khmer Sports Club. Awhile ago someone applied for a liquor license, but not sure what the status is now.

  15. joe from Lowell Says:

    A movie theater would be a great idea.

    I don’t want a precious little art/foreign/classic movie house that is the equivalent of the National Park’s trolley rides, dragging on the city’s arts/economic development/cultural budget until the end of time. We don’t need yet another money sink that will appeal to eight “buffs” at a time.

  16. Jerry B Says:

    It’s a great idea, and would serve the community well if it was as close to downtown as possible. I have always thought that a small movie house would do well in the city. Themed “midnight showings”, perhaps great movies of the 70’s (Serpico, Klute, Nashville, Deliverence, Five Easy Pieces, etc…, stuff so many young people have never been able to see) would be a neat idea.
    as far as someone saying that we have enough performance venues, it’s true of MRT and The Auditorioum, but if you tried tio run a small theater company in this town, believe me, it is a huge challenge! Upstairs at pubs, in museums, anywhere we can get people to see us, Image Theater has had a hell of a time finding places to feature our local playwrights. Anyways, I wish you all luck in your endeavor. Just make sure it has really fresh popcorn!

  17. Tim Little Says:

    I wonder how the college kids would take to Rocky Horror at midnight on Saturdays? Someone’s got to pick up the Harvard Square mantle after all…. ;-)

  18. Lynne Says:

    Give me a Saturday all-day showing of the entirety of the Lord of the Rings trilogy - the REAL version, the director’s cut, not the paltry 3 hours they showed in the theatre - I would so all-day-marathon that on a big screen. What’re the rules on a public showing of movies like that anyway? If you don’t charge for tickets, but use it as a fundraiser, and/or sell breakfast, lunch and dinner for attendees, do you have to pay royalties? If you have to pay royalties, would it be prohibitively expensive even 10 years later?

    Just askin…

    Now’d be good timing, too, seeing as The Hobbit is coming out…

  19. George DeLuca Says:

    Dave Ouellette of ACTION noted on Tues. “The Lowell Connection” (now on WUML 91.5, that plans for the Smith Baker Center are progressing via CBA under the auspices of COOL.

    He said that the original estimates of $9 mil plus to renovate is way high (makes sense). I’m sure it will still take considerable time to turn around but the new outlook on numbers is encouraging.

    If they can get an existing conditions and feasibility study completed we’ll be able to see the big picture. Hopefully, this is the direction they’re now headed. If they can hire Jay Mason to do it … even better.

    Meanwhile, the St. Jean Baptiste Church is in play as a community and arts center.

    Link to the radio segment: http://www.cometolowell.com/WUML.htm

  20. joe from Lowell Says:

    I wonder how the college kids would take to Rocky Horror at midnight on Saturdays?

    College kids? Try 40-year-olds loft owners.

    That is an outstanding idea.

  21. Jim Buba Says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me. Technology has usurped any value to any movie outside of a very, very small one to accomodate those forever stuck in the nostalgic past. A movie theater in any downtown setting is a ridiculous waste of brick and concrete.

    Converting or remodelling the Auditorium that it might accomodate the occasional tribute to times long past would be much better. Small crowds and little interest in horrible Hollywood film is, like Lowell’s textile prowess, a thing of the distant past.

    After you’ve finished grimacing to the nines, you will consider a multi-purpose center or better still, showcase the canal system and systematically rebuild all of the downtown to meet the needs of the people.

    The latter is an expensive proposition worthy of consideration and in there, several small and nostalgic movie houses could well occupy the space otherwise ignored.

    Pretty much like the Hamilton Canal District for the last 60 years. Lowell needs to get its head screwed on straight and decide if it wants to be a part of the future or thing of the past.

    Your choice.

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