[article via THS Director Dennis Wilhelm, Miami Beach, FL]By Susan Latham Carr, Staff writer
OCALA – From May, when the city of Ocala began paying Eastwynn Theatres Inc. $5,000 a month to manage the Marion Theatre, through Sept. 30, the end of the city’s fiscal year, the theater showed a loss of $4,394.
“August and September are usually bad in the industry,” said Tye Chighizola, the city’s director of growth management. “The summer movies are usually over at the beginning of August. Industry-wide, September is usually the worst month for the movie business. They just don’t have the blockbusters.”
With the help of the Save The Marion Theater group, a band of citizens who joined together to keep the doors of the historic venue open, the theater showed profits of $18,711 in May, $11,279 in June and $6,118 in July. The theater lost $33,478 in August and $7,024 in September.
Over the years, the theater, which is owned by the city of Ocala, has had its ups and downs. It got a boost in the spring of 2010, with the showing of first-run movies. At that time, Eastwynn Theatres Inc., a subsidiary of Carmike Cinemas, signed a one-year contract with the city to operate the theater and bring in current movies, something that had not occurred since the 1970s. Eastwynn’s contract with the city expired March 31.
From May 26, 2010, when it began operating the theater, to Feb. 28, 2011, Eastwynn reportedly lost $119,274. Eastwynn did not want to renew its contract and proposed that the city pay them $5,000 a month to manage the facility and also pay all expenses except salaries.
The City Council, which was against paying the fee, looked for someone to run or buy the theater. If no one had been found, the council was ready to let the theater go dark. That is when Buddy Martin and friends formed the Save The Marion Theater group to try to keep the venue open.
After some negotiations and growing public pressure, the council signed a one-year contract meeting Eastwynn’s terms.
With seven months left in the contract, the hope is holiday movies will put the Marion Theatre back in the black.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s not earth-shaking,” Martin said of the losses. “We know fall is a tough time.”
He said his group will continue to try to attract moviegoers to the downtown theater. The group has not received any public dollars for its events, which included bringing a pirate ship downtown to feature the most recent “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. Everything they have spent has come from donations and members’ pockets.
“What does it cost (the city) to operate the parks, the ball fields or the golf course?” Martin asked, suggesting the theater might be worth the public’s support.
And he points out benefits the group’s events have brought to other businesses downtown.
“If we could bring $100,000 worth of business downtown for $4,000, would that be a good deal?” he asked.
To show their continued commitment, the group will add to the upcoming Twilight Saga Tuesdays and the Twilight Saga Marathon excitement leading to the Nov. 18 opening of the film, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1.” Save the Marion will feature “Twilight Ocala,” a special wedding reception/party from 5 to 8 p.m. on Nov. 18 on Magnolia Avenue in front of the theater.
“We are doing the best we can to make this work,” Martin said. “Ultimately, the people of Ocala will decide if that’s what they want.”