April 27, 2006

Art House May Replace Commons Theater

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Negotiations between the key players in the Cayuga Green development project concerning the construction of a 12-screen multiplex have gone on for at least two years.

Now, plans have changed: the developers, Bloomfield Schon & Partners, have considered scrapping the multiplex idea for an art house cinema.

Fall Creek Pictures and Cinemapolis would be consolidated and would show films in a new space on Green Street, possibly replacing the Green Street parking helix.

“Preserving the art house atmosphere is great,” said Mary Fessenden, director of Cornell Cinema. “The theater would be run by a local business, not a corporation located outside Ithaca.” Fessenden also said that the art house would “go with Ithaca’s unique character” and “would not duplicate something that’s already happening,” in reference to Pyramid Mall’s Regal Cinemas multiplex.

Fall Creek Pictures and Cinemapolis are featured on the website “Cinema Treasures,” which furthers the movie-theater preservation cause.

“There is an advantage for art-house moviegoers because they get a brand new space with new seats and equipment,” Fessenden said. “At the same time, the new space will not have intimate, personal appeal.”

Fessenden described Fall Creek and Cinemapolis as “quirky,” not “cookie-cutter.”

Cayuga Green developers approached 7th Art, the local not-for-profit corporation that runs Cinemapolis and Fall Creek, and offered to make them the new cinema’s operators, those who will “run the whole show, from tickets to popcorn to cleaning,” according to Thys Van Cort, director of Ithaca’s planning and development.

“Final plans are still up in the air,” Van Cort said.

According to Gary Ferguson, executive director of Ithaca Downtown Partnership, if 7th Art can swing the financial side of the project, “the developers will go with them first.”

“They can’t just sign their name to a piece of paper, they need resources and a financial package put together that makes sense,” Ferguson said. “A national corporation would have an easier time doing that than a local not-for-profit.”

Jodi Cohen, current chair of the 7th Art board, could not be contacted for comment.

Fessenden sees the cinema’s location – slightly off the Commons – as a disadvantage. Alderperson Michelle Berry M.P.S. ’92 (D-2nd Ward) said she “bemoans the loss of the synchronicity between Fall Creek Theatre and the restaurant next door, Willows.” According to Berry, the two enterprises have cross-marketing projects, sometimes allowing diners to buy an entrée and then receive a reduced-price movie ticket.

Van Cort and Ferguson think the cinema will bring a whole new class of people downtown. Van Cort has spoken to Ithaca College students who were “very enthusiastic” and said that the downtown movie house will “capture a share of movie-goers that go to [Pyramid Mall’s Regal Cinema multiplex] in Lansing.”

Sparring over the threat of increased competition between the potential cinema downtown and the multiplex at Pyramid Mall hindered, in part, the project’s completion. Pyramid’s planned multiplex expansion – adding four more screens to their current 10 – did not facilitate the project’s realization. In a letter Fessenden distributed last year once the plans for the multiplex were announced, she said that the industry standard of one screen per capita is one per 10,000 and that the population of Tompkins County is simply not big enough to support 10 to 12 new screens.

According to Van Cort, the Pyramid Mall multiplex owner has announced three to four times that the expansion’s ground-breaking would begin the following week. The groundbreaking has yet to begin.

“This tends to make one feel skeptical,” Van Court said.

Alderperson Dan Cogan (D-5th Ward) felt the owner was just “flexing his muscles.”

Cayuga Green developers are granted the standard tax abatement policy by the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency, regardless of who ends up operating the theatre. The tax abatement policy allows for a gradual incremental increase in taxes – 0 percent the first year, 10 percent the second, 20 percent the third, and so on. This makes downtown development affordable, according to Cogan.

Archived article by Jessica DiNapoli
Sun Staff Writer