Consultants: Movie theater could be viable addition to downtown Petoskey
Consultants participating in downtown Petoskey¿s recent movie theater feasibility study include (from left) Bill Finnicum, Bob Donohue and Tom Gerdom. (Ryan Bentley/News-Review / December 12, 2012)
On Tuesday, the consultants from southeast Michigan presented the Petoskey Downtown Management Board with some findings from their recent theater feasibility study. Conducting the study were Bob Donohue, who has a background in downtown development; Tom Gerdom, who has worked extensively with various types of theaters; and Bill Finnicum, an architect.
"We feel that (a downtown movie theater) is an idea that has been kicked around for a while, quite a long time, and we feel it's an idea whose time has come," said Finnicum.
Downtown officials have more details to consider, though, before deciding whether to actively seek out a movie theater venture.
The downtown board decided earlier this year to seek a study of whether a movie theater could be a feasible addition to the business district's offerings. The board contributed about $9,000 in surplus downtown parking revenues -- a bit more than half of the study expense -- while an award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Rural Business Enterprise Grants program funded the rest.
Downtown Petoskey's last movie theater, the Gaslight Cinema, closed in 2002, with its owners opening the Petoskey Cinema in Bear Creek Township as a replacement. Some downtown merchants lamented the loss of business traffic that the Gaslight Cinema generated.
Downtown director Becky Goodman has said members of the downtown business community often have told her that they'd like to see a movie theater available once again in the business district.
The consultants visited Petoskey on three occasions for field research, concentrating on three potentially available downtown business spaces that could be adapted for theater use. They considered factors such as building locations, architecture, construction costs and history, and found that local demographics were favorable for support of a theater.
The consultants ultimately concluded that the three-story Fochtman building at 422 E. Mitchell St. -- which currently houses the Ethnic Creations shop and several upstairs apartments -- would provide the best opportunity of the buildings studied for theater use. The two other spaces that they considered, located a block or so west on Mitchell, presented drawbacks such as narrow footprints that couldn't accommodate larger movie screens and being available only for lease rather than purchase.
Consultants shared a concept for creating a main theater area using portions of the building's main floor and basement, with two smaller theaters on the second floor. A third-floor banquet space and a rooftop deck would be located above those, with bar areas proposed to be part of the venue as well.
They suggested a mix of recent and classic films as a model for a theater venture in the building. Along with movie screenings and special events, they noted that broadcasts of high-definition video programming -- in categories such as culture or sports -- could be another potential use for the site.
The consultants noted that ownership of downtown theaters can involve private, public or nonprofit entities, or some combination of those, and a mostly private ownership status seems to be the most realistic one locally.
Costs to renovate, furnish and equip the venue for theater use were projected to be approximately $6.5 million, which would not include building acquisition or movie projectors. Consultants anticipate that various incentives available from local, state, federal and private sources potentially could cover 40-55 percent of the construction expense, if not more.
"I don't think a theater under 500 seats is going to adversely affect your (downtown parking situation) at all," Donohue said.
Consultants still are working on the final written report from their study, and expect to have it finished within the next several weeks. As part of it, they plan to develop some potential revenue scenarios that a theater might achieve.
Downtown board chairman Larry Rochon said it will be important for officials to consider those projections for business viability, and that the topic likely will be discussed at a January meeting. If the board concludes that a theater could operate feasibly downtown, Rochon added that it might seek marketing assistance from the consultants in hope of attracting an operator.
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