August 21, 2013

KITCHELL: Future of theaters a cliffhanger


---- — At one point in Cass County, motion pictures were shown outdoors on the side of the New Waverly General Store.

If downtown Logansport or the county is ever to have movies again, it may have to be via that same, Depression-era approach.

For the first time in more than a century, the city of Logansport now has no movie theater open. With delays befalling a proposed multi-cinema behind the Logansport Mall and the State Theater shifting gears to become a new entertainment venue called The Shindig, it will be a drive to neighboring county seats for overly buttered popcorn and first-run movies. The irony here is that smaller county seats such as Rochester, Monticello, Winamac and Peru all have theaters and Logansport doesn’t. What’s wrong with this motion picture?

We’ve had the State, the Roxy, the Luna and the Logan. Now, we’ve got nothing.

In this era when first-run movies are available on the day of release via one cable provider, it stands to reason that theaters aren’t exactly the easy, no-brainer investment they once were. On the other hand, theaters that have been around for decades and remain icons in the fabric of the community deserve better fates, and so do their owners. The small Indiana community of Spencer rallied to save its historic theater, but that’s not the case in a larger community like Logansport or Plymouth.

Last week, it was reported that there is no firm completion date for the multiplex in the east end. As it turns out, the previous deadlines reported in newspaper articles were, to borrow a movie title, “Pulp Fiction.” As for the administrative costs associated with the city establishing a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district to provide $250,000 for the theater, that may be “Gone with the Wind” if the theater isn’t completed. “Other People’s Money,” that is, our city tax dollars, may pay for that cost.

But there is a “Titanic” injustice in this scenario that allows a theater which has employed local residents, complemented downtown businesses and paid its taxes to be pitted against investors who have never paid a dime to our local coffers, don’t live in the community, won’t be hiring more than a couple of full-time employees and can’t guarantee when the theater will open — even if there is an economic package provided by the city that most other local businesses wouldn’t get. Some local business owners might refer to this as a remake of “Raging Bull.”

Councilman Bob Bishop, the “Avatar” for the Logansport Redevelopment Commission, has reportedly acknowledged that the deadline for the theater may not be met. Without an extension from the city for the funding, the new theater might be in for a “Rocky” beginning, even if its investors had hoped many visions of “The Color of Money.”

Some organizations, like the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, would claim we should be “Breaking Away” from the TIF district concept and its overuse. A recent institute report found that Indiana’s $580 million in TIF districts ranks Indiana seventh in TIF revenue. Meanwhile, other taxing units — schools, libraries and city governments — have to do without revenue they would have collected had TIF districts not been in place.

If landmark theaters such as the “State” are to have their own “Shawshank Redemption” for their contributions to the community, city government has to provide the same kind of support for it that it is providing the multiplex near the mall. This isn’t a matter of seeing something out your “Rear Window.” The State is on East Market Street in plain view of thousands of cars every day.

While the previous city administration took heat for investing tens of thousands in a downtown office building a block away that today is occupied by Nason Insurance, it could be argued that this administration paid too little attention to an existing business that needs it as much or more than a vacant downtown building did just a few years ago.

What’s happening with the local movie theater situation maybe isn’t the stuff of Hollwyood, but it’s a drama that plays out in the evolution of a city, and that affects us all indirectly, if not directly. This is a story that may not have a happy ending like so many Disney movies have had at the State over the years. What if a new cinema isn’t completed, or if it is completed and can’t compete with the new Peru Roxy? Maybe then we’ll finally realize that more can and should be done to help downtown Logansport and its marquee – pun intended – property.

If it isn’t, then we may have seen “The Last Picture Show” in downtown Logansport.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at