Bringing the movies downtown


Roberto Sackett and Craig Purcell can see it now: a downtown Annapolis cinema and bistro with adjoining outdoor cafe, perhaps even an art gallery, the sort of place where one is not apt to run into Ferris Bueller, Rambo or the Terminator.

Now all they need is money.

"It's going slowly, I have to say," says Mr. Sackett, who is a partner with Mr. Purcell in Paradiso Inc., a corporation with an artsy name and a plan to bring movies back to downtown, where they have not been seen since the screen at the Circle Theater went dark in 1983.

The two Annapolis men say everyone with whom they talk seems to agree that downtown is ripe for a theater, especially one that offers movies not seen at the local malls.

They get encouraging words from local restaurateurs who see a theater as a magnet for downtown dinner business.

So far, though, no backers.

"We've contacted a half-dozen fairly serious investors," says Mr. Sackett, former preservation director for the Historic Annapolis Foundation.

"Now we're trying to link back up and follow through."

They figure they need to raise about $600,000, split about 50-50 between investors and business loans.

They don't have any money to invest themselves, although Mr. Purcell, an architect with Schwarz-Purcell of Annapolis, expects to contribute about $40,000 in architectural work.

The project has enthusiastic support from the city's Economic ,, Development Division, which has published a detailed study showing how much money Paradiso expects to spend and earn, as well as how many customers it expects to attract.

"If I can help it, there will be a movie theater downtown," says Miguel Ferrer, the city's economic development director. He says he sees "tremendous demand and support for it locally."

The partners have no agreement yet with the property owner, but they hope to build the theater in a three-story concrete-block warehouse a few steps off Main Street, behind Hopkins Furniture. Most of the warehouse is empty, as the store also uses another warehouse in Eastport.

Property owner Spencer Hopkins is saying very little about this, but he acknowledges that the warehouse, built in 1962, is not crucial to his business.

"When you have something that can be used another way and you're not using it, why not?" says Mr. Hopkins, whose family has run the store since the early 1920s.

Paradiso Inc. wants to use the furniture warehouse because of its size and location next to the 415-space Noah Hillman parking garage. Mr. Ferrer says the theater would be included in the city's park-and-shop program, which offers free parking at the garage for the customers of downtown businesses that have paid a fee for the privilege.

The partners have their hearts set on the Hopkins site, but they're not ruling out looking elsewhere if it doesn't work out.

The plan includes three theaters, two with 130 seats each, one with 50 seats. They plan to offer conventional movie snacks plus an indoor-outdoor cafe offering gourmet coffee, tea, desserts and light food.

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