Town asked to help carry out movie the­ater deal

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By TR­ISH MCGEE pm­cgee@thekent­coun­tynews.com

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...

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