The Movie House Massacre

Swelling monsterplexes. Bankrupt chains. Cutthroat competition. A glut of screens leaves the national and local movie-theater business reeling.

Jeff Patterson, an analyst with the real estate company Colliers/Towle who has tracked the exhibition industry since the early Nineties, also suspects that a downtown movie house could fill an unmet demand. He is far from certain, however, that the Block E cineplex, to be built by the small Connecticut-based Crown Theatres, will do so. "There's still demand in downtown, and there are now a lot of people living on the edge of downtown. The big question is, Is Block E going to be developed in such a way as to make all people, including suburban immigrants, come downtown?"

Patterson contends that the recent and little-lamented demise of the Skyway Theater was caused by a failure to attract this target demographic. "The Skyway was just a bad situation," he says. "I'd rather not get into the specifics of it, but the kind of people they attracted and the films they showed just wouldn't mix well with a suburban audience."

The new Block E theater will almost certainly be more attractive than the long-deteriorating Skyway, Patterson says. But, unlike McComb, he notes that amenities alone may not guarantee it will draw a large enough audience to break even. "Out of the whole Block E project, I'm most concerned about the theater. There just isn't enough of a population downtown in the evening to support it, so the whole success of the project is going to hinge on attracting suburban audiences."

Jeremy Eaton

Irvine, meanwhile, believes the current trend--building new megaplexes while letting neighborhood theaters atrophy into oblivion--adds up to the same old foolhardiness. "Who heads these companies? Don't they have any foresight?" he says. "It's like, 'Just go ahead and do it anyway, even if it's not feasible.' Don't they bother to study these things? It's nuts! These people are crazy. If you're in the restaurant business, and you see a successful Mexican restaurant, you don't then go in and build three more Mexican restaurants around it, do you?"

"I cannot honestly imagine how Block E is going to survive," Irvine says. "Who's going to want to go downtown to see a movie? Guess what? The same movie is playing right next door. I just think it's an ill-fated waste of money."

The logic behind the new downtown theater, Irvine argues, boils down to a line from a bad movie: Build it, and they will come. And that, he notes, is what got the industry into this mess in the first place.

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