Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 23, 2014

Orpheum Theatre nonprofit group to poll community

By DONNA SCHILL CLEVELAND, Ledger staff writer | Dec 20, 2012
PHOTO SUBMITTED Fairfield’s century-old movie theater will once again sport its original name, Orpheum Theatre, as the newly-formed nonprofit Orpheum Theatre and Fairfield Film Institute makes plans to renovate the facility into a state-of-the-art community-run theater.

The newly-formed nonprofit, Orpheum Theatre and Fairfield Film Institute, is beginning its first community outreach effort with a survey to poll the kind of facility Fairfield residents want to see in place of the recently-closed Co-Ed Theater.

Beginning today, residents will have a chance to affect the direction the committee takes with film selection and show times, snack choices, events and volunteer opportunities at www.orpheumtheatrefairfield.org.

“We would like every single person from middle school on to fill out this survey,” said Sheila Ross, initial planning and incorporation committee member for the nonprofit. “We want it to be a real consensus reflecting the community’s desires.”

The committee hopes to reopen the theater in 2013, and raise the roughly $300,000 necessary to upgrade the facility to include high definition digital projection, Dolby sound, comfortable seats and a variety of snacks. Ross said the committee has carefully structured a business plan, available for viewing on the website, taking lessons from the recent fate of the Co-Ed Theater.

The theater, a Fairfield landmark for more than a century, shut its doors in September when theater operator Big Time Cinema announced bankruptcy. Managing owner of the Co-Ed building Chris Johnson of Mandala 6 Land Partners did a thorough search of other Iowa franchises and said he could not find a single interested private operator to take Big Time Cinema’s place.

Johnson said Fairfield’s predicament mirrored national trends of small town theaters closing in response to changes in the industry. Along with the rising cost of exhibiting first-run mainstream movies, theaters have been struggling with an industry-wide conversion to digital technology. According to the nonprofit, the conversion has caused an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 small-town and neighborhood theatres to close their doors. They said it currently costs about $70,000 per screen for the necessary upgrades. Johnson plans to invest in renovating the lobby and bathrooms.

Ross said Fairfield has the opportunity to follow the positive reaction of small towns in Iowa, such as Mount Pleasant, Washington and Burlington, which have formed nonprofits and raised the necessary funding to convert the theaters to digital and reopen their hometown theaters. Committee members said they were pleased to learn the towns were successfully operating their theatres with positive cash flow.

“We’re excited, based on research of other theaters, there will not need to be ongoing outside funding for the theater,” said Ross. “It will be a self-sufficient business.”

One of the main objectives of the survey is to learn whether or not residents wish to see first-run movies in town and whether they’d be willing to wait a couple of weeks to see them, which Ross said would make the transaction much more affordable.

“The fees can drop by 90 percent if we wait several weeks,” she said.

Ross said the committee could post first-run movie schedules in advance on the website, so families could make the choice of whether to wait or not.

“You’ll be able to check and see whether we are getting that movie. We are going to endeavor to get as many first-run movies as soon after they’re released as we can,” said Ross.

The nonprofit is now accepting donations toward the $300,000 needed to upgrade both screens, install a new sound system and to put in stadium seating.

A board of directors has been established to lead fundraising efforts including Ken Malloy, Rustin Lippincott, Ellen Chenoweth, Bob Ferguson, Joanna Plafsky, Stuart Tanner, Kristian Hays, Jean Greco, Chris Johnson Jr. and Alissa Doyle Ward. Ross said any members of the planning committee or board are happy to answer any questions from the community.

“The planning committee is very grateful that such wonderful people have stepped up to the plate to fulfill the vision of a new vibrant movie theater in Fairfield,” said Ross.

Tax-deductible donations can be made to OTAFFI and mailed to P.O. Box 1686, Fairfield. The donations button on the website will soon be active to accept funds as well.

 

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