Town asked to help carry out movie theater deal
CHESTERTOWN — After negotiations stalled and then appeared to cease altogether, a deal is back on the table to bring a first-run movie house to the Washington Square shopping center. The anticipated opening is Memorial Day. The 14,400-square-foot space that anchors the shopping center at the northern gateway to town, what formerly had been Chester 5 Theatres for 20 years, has been empty since early June when the multiplex closed on just a day’s notice to the public. Chesapeake Movies Inc. and property owner Silicato Development are moving forward with a multi-year lease, spokesmen for both sides con- firmed earlier this week, but there is a $75,000 gap in funding. In rolling out their plans during the regularly scheduled mayor and council meeting Monday, the principals of Chesapeake Movies Inc. — who include Bob Wienholt and Ira Miller of Baltimore-based Horizon Cinemas, longtime partners in independent theater ownership — asked the Town of Chestertown for $75,000 as an advance against anticipated tax revenue. The theater ownership would pay 4 percent of its revenue through the amusement tax annually, with a projection that the town would recoup its loan in five to seven years. “We feel this is a wonderful opportunity for the town to proactively help get this movie theater back up and running,” said Kay MacIntosh, the town’s economic development and marketing coordinator, who introduced Wienholt, Miller and Michael Klein, president of Chesapeake Movies. “I’ve heard a lot from the community. People really do want a movie theater back in town,” MacIntosh told the council as she made the initial pitch. “It obviously is not only good for quality of life and entertainment, but it also will have a big impact on our overall economic health through restaurants and shopping. People will come to town to go to the movies and stay in town to shop and eat.” She called it a “win-win.” Mayor Chris Cerino said he was concerned about setting a precedent in fronting money to a business or
entrepreneur in negotiations with a landlord and that he needed assurances that the taxpayers’ money would be safeguarded. After discussion, the vote was 4-0 to proceed as a facilitator in the negotiations. Councilwoman Linda Kuiper was absent. Cerino said he was in favor of the motion with “reservations.” “I’ve got your back, but we have to do our due diligence,” Cerino told Klein, Miller and Wienholt before the vote was taken. Definitive action on the $75,000 loan is expected to be taken at the April 2 meeting. In the meantime, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll has been authorized to look after the town’s interests as Silicato Development and Chesapeake Movies work toward an agreement. The venture is tentatively being called Chesapeake 5 Theatres, what Miller, who has been in the business for 50 years, described as a “top-line movie theater.” Klein said the existing five-screen theater would be completely overhauled, featuring raised platform seat- ing with high-back rockers, new drapes and carpeting, wider screens, and state-ofthe-art projection and sound systems. Everything would be new and modernized, including the lobby, the concession stand and restrooms. The total investment is estimated to be $500,000, with more than half of that in equipment. They expect to hire 12 to 15 people. Miller, whose half-century in the business included 15 years as a vice president for MGM, said as the person in charge of booking movies he would select family movies, science fiction, art films, “a blend of everything so we can bring everybody to the theater.” The plan includes making this a community theater, involving Washington College, the local film society and the broadcasting program at Kent County High School. The theater could be rented for fundraisers and birthday parties, Miller said. They are exploring the idea of selling beer and wine — Horizon Cinemas Fallston in Harford County received a liquor license last March — and partnering with area restaurants to provide a dinner theater option or joint marketing promotions such as dinner and a movie. Ingersoll supported the deal, noting that currently no entity in town is producing amusement tax revenue. In a good year, when the movie theater was open and there were video arcades, about $20,000 came into the town coffers. Currently, the amusement tax revenue is “flat lined,” he said. Ingersoll suggested that if for some reason Chesapeake Movies shutters the theater, it be put in writing that the balance of the $75,000 advance be paid. From the audience, Pam Whyte, a curator with the newly launched RiverArts film society, said she was “passionately” asking the town to support this opportunity. She said: “If we’re committed to investing in a state-ofthe-art theater, we’re showing our community and potential people who might want to move here and maybe Washington College students who won’t want to move away and people who might want to move back that we are investing in the community, that we are committed to the health and wellness of the community.”
PHOTO BY TRISH MCGEE Michael Klein, president of Chesapeake Movies Inc., rolls out the plan for a five-creen theater to Chestertown officials Monday. From left are Councilmen Marty Stetson and Ellsworth Tolliver, Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill...