For years, Cornell students have had limited options for seeing first-run movies, but that may be about to change. If a new downtown development, the Cayuga Green project, goes through as planned, students could look forward to a new 12-screen multiplex next to The Commons opening sometime in 2006. Although the theater is just one piece of the much larger Cayuga Green project, none of the other parts are likely to have such a direct impact on Cornellians, who currently must head to the Regal Cinema at the Pyramid Mall in order to catch the hottest new movies.
Many underclassmen expressed satisfaction at the prospect of another theater coming to town during their time on The Hill, while some seniors such as Helena Man ’06 lamented that the multiplex would not be completed in time for her class to take advantage of it.
“It would have been so much more convenient to have a movie theater closer to campus, especially if you don’t have a car, which I don’t,” Man said.
The proposed theater will be the centerpiece of the massive Cayuga Green project, a public-private partnership which has already seen the completion of the new Cayuga Street parking garage and “Seneca Place on the Commons,” a mixed use hotel/office building on East Seneca Street. The project will ultimately include a mixture of housing (both for rent and for sale), retail and office space in the area adjacent to the Tompkins County Public Library on Green Street. In addition, a 400-seat outdoor amphitheater for showing movies on summer nights will be constructed next to neighboring Six Mile Creek.
According to Alderperson Dan Cogan (D-5th Ward), a member of the Ithaca Common Council, the theater and rental housing should be completed sometime in 2006 with the condominiums planned to open in 2007.
“The goal of the [Cayuga Green] project was to increase the vitality and strengthen the economy of the downtown area,” said Nels Bohn, director of community development for the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency. “The 12-screen theater will be a real anchor for the whole project,” he added. Bohn said that the plans for the theater currently called for two stories of screens with a mixture of theater and retail space facing the street.
The completed project could bring a host of economic benefits to the City of Ithaca including new property taxes, new parking revenues, and a boost in sales tax revenues, since as Bohn explained, “25 percent of every dollar of sales tax collected in Ithaca goes directly to the City.”
Cogan, who sits on the Planning, Neighborhoods and Economic Development Committee of the Common Council explained why the City had felt the need for a new “mixed-use” downtown development of theater, housing, office and retail space.
“Increasingly, shoppers are being pulled out to the big-box stores on the southwest side of town, and we are concerned that if we don’t continue to bring people downtown, that starts a downward spiral where downtown stores don’t have the foot traffic needed to survive,” Cogan said. If the theater and the Cayuga Green project “brings additional people to live and work downtown, then the City benefits,” he added.
The possibility of a new downtown multiplex, however, has some Ithacans, such as Lynne Cohen worried. Cohen, one of the two executive directors of the 7th Art Corporation, a non-profit group that manages Cinemapolis and Fall Creek Pictures, two small downtown theaters that show mostly art films, is concerned that the presence of 12 new screens in the Ithaca area could be disastrous for her business.
“We think that given the fact that the Pyramid Regal theater is also planning to expand to 14 screens [with stadium seating by 2006], if someone else also comes in downtown and puts in 12 more screens, that will just be too many screens,” Cohen said.
Cohen stressed that the real problem would be with the number of screens in town not the location of those screens.
“If Regal were to close and the new theater opened it would not be so bad,” she said, “but it’s just the number of screens with both of them open which will glut the market.”
She added that her fear was that with so many screens in the area both large theaters could struggle to fill seats, leading to a temptation by one or both of them to expand their audiences by showing popular art films such as this summer’s documentary hit March of the Penguins, which is currently being shown at Fall Creek Pictures.
In 2004, according to the 7th Art website, just 10 popular films (out of nearly 90 shown) provided 60 percent of their total revenue. Some of these films, such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Fahrenheit 9/11 were also shown at first-run theaters in some cities, although not at the Regal Cinema at the Pyramid Mall.
Or, as Cohen commented, “as soon as we lose the more commercial art films, we lose the ability to offer non-commercial art films.”
In an attempt to address the concerns of 7th Art, the owner of the proposed multiplex, Jim Duffy, CEO of American Screen Works Inc. has offered to sign a non-competition agreement with the art-house theaters, promising not to show any films to which they have laid claim, according to an article in The Ithaca Journal. Cogan added that Duffy has also offered to run trailers for movies being shown at Cinemapolis and Fall Creek Pictures and post ads for their offerings in the new theater.
Cohen called the proposed non-competition agreement “a good faith effort on the part of the City to try and help the problem,” and said that the agreement “bears looking into.” However, she added that in the opinion of the 7th Art Corporation, the agreement still “needs legal study.”
Ultimately, both Cogan and Bohn were confident that the theater and the Cayuga Green project would be good for the downtown area.
Bohn predicted that “there should be some spinoff benefits to neighborhood businesses because of the increased foot traffic generated by the multiplex and the new housing.”
“I do feel that bringing additional people downtown will benefit businesses in The Commons,” Cogan said.
Archived article by y Elijah Reichlin-Melnick
Sun Staff Writer