Ne­wark al­lows movie the­aters to sell al­co­hol with per­mit

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By KARIE SIM­MONS

Spe­cial from the Ne­wark Post

— Noth­ing says a night at the movies like a box of candy and a bag of pop­corn, and now that al­co­hol is on the menu, movie­go­ers can wash down all that but­ter and su­gar with a glass of wine or their fa­vorite brew.

On Mon­day night, city coun­cil amended Ne­wark’s code to al­low in­door movie the­aters to sell al­co­hol in the BB and BC zon­ing dis­tricts on a con­di­tional ba­sis and with a spe­cial-use per­mit.

The change comes on the heels of a 2014 state law le­gal­iz­ing al­co­hol sales in movie the­aters. So far, the­aters like Penn Cinema River­front in Wilm­ing­ton, Re­gal Cine­mas in Brandy­wine and Westown Movies in Mid­dle­town have al­ready taken ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity.

Ne­wark’s only in­door movie theater – Ne­wark Cinema Cen­ter – was evicted from the Ne­wark Shop­ping Cen­ter in Oc­to­ber af­ter strug­gling for months, be­hind in rent and un­able to af­ford needed up­grades.

This sum­mer, Main Street Movies 5 will open in its place. The space will be ex­panded to 18,000 square feet and un­dergo an es­ti­mated $3 mil­lion in ren­o­va­tions in­clud­ing five new screens, ap­prox­i­mately 500 re­clin­ing seats and self-serve ticket kiosks.

Main Street Movies 5 owner Arthur Helmick also wants to sell al­co­hol at the new theater and has been pe­ti­tion­ing the city to change the code.

Last month, he told the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion – which voted in fa­vor of the change – that the state has strict guide­lines for sell­ing al­co­hol at the movies, in­clud­ing a two-drink limit for the du­ra­tion of the film. Pa­trons pur­chas­ing al­co­hol must be iden­ti­fied by a wrist­band, and ush­ers are re­quired to check the au­di­to­ri­ums, which must also be mon­i­tored by video sur­veil­lance, to make sure pa­trons aren’t pass­ing drink­ing to un­der­age movie­go­ers.

Helmick also owns

NE­WARK, DEL.

Westown Movies and told coun­cil Mon­day night that he hasn’t had any is­sues sell­ing al­co­hol in Mid­dle­town. He said he ex­pects Ne­wark to be the same way.

“Go­ing to the theater to drink, that’s not what you come to this theater for,” he said.

How­ever, sev­eral res­i­dents were con­cerned that amend­ing the code would turn Main Street Movies 5 into a party at­mos­phere and set a prece­dent for fu­ture re­quests.

“Any use will be grand­fa­thered for­ever, so you bet­ter get it right the first time,” said res­i­dent John Mor­gan.

He noted that he wouldn’t have a prob­lem if Main Street Movies 5 – the only theater in Ne­wark that would ben­e­fit from sell­ing al­co­hol – was in an area with more adults and fam­i­lies, not within walk­ing dis­tance from “rather im­ma­ture un­der­grad­u­ates” at the Univer­sity of Delaware.

As a com­pro­mise, Mor­gan sug­gested the theater be limited to serv­ing one drink per per­son in­stead of two.

“Get­ting up to get another drink is dis­rup­tive,” he said.

Res­i­dent Jean White said drink­ing al­co­hol at the movies isn’t nec­es­sary when there is a hand­ful of restau­rants and bars down­town where movie­go­ers can get a drink be­fore and af­ter the film. She said the theater just wants to sell beer and wine to make money.

“Ev­ery bar and restau­rant wants a piece of the al­co­hol pie,” she said.

Coun­cil­man Todd Ruckle ar­gued that stu­dents have their own theater in the Tra­bant Univer­sity Cen­ter and most likely would not turn Main Street Movies 5 into a drink­ing party, if they even go at all.

“This is more for the res­i­dents than the stu­dents, and I re­ally don’t see the stu­dents go­ing,” he said.

Still, Coun­cil­man Mark More­head was hes­i­tant and urged his col­leagues on coun­cil to “tread care­fully.”

“This would head us down the path of maybe hav­ing al­co­hol at an ice skat­ing rink, a gro­cery store, a hair salon,” he said.

Other mem­bers, like Marge Had­den and Stu Markham, saw the code change as an “op­por­tu­nity” to have trained em­ploy­ees watch­ing for al­co­hol abuse and mon­i­tor­ing con­sump­tion.

“I’m will­ing to sup­port this ex­per­i­ment,” Markham said. “You’ll be un­der a mi­cro­scope, who­ever comes first, but I’m will­ing to give it a try.”

Coun­cil voted 6 to 1 to amend city code to al­low in­door movie the­aters to sell al­co­hol in the BB and BC zon­ing dis­tricts on a con­di­tional ba­sis and with a spe­cial-use per­mit. More­head was the only op­pos­ing vote.

The or­di­nance passed Mon­day, how­ever, does not di­rectly al­low Main Street Movies 5 to sell al­co­hol. The theater will need to come back to coun­cil at a later date for a spe­cial-use per­mit.

NE­WARK POST FILE PHOTO BY KARIE SIM­MONS

On Mon­day, coun­cil passed an or­di­nance al­low­ing movie the­aters to sell al­co­hol as long as they ap­ply for a spe­cial-use per­mit. Main Street Movies 5, which will re­place the now-shut­tered Ne­wark Cinema Cen­ter, is ex­pected to ap­ply for an al­co­hol per­mit.

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