March 2, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Movies matter
By†Jody†Reese

For nearly a decade, Manchester has been trying to attract a downtown movie theater.

Most downtown boosters believe that a theater would bring more people downtown, helping support all sorts of other business, such as retail, restaurants, nightlife and real estate.

Unfortunately, itís very unlikely that one of the large theater chains would open a theater downtown. For starters the Regal Cinema Group controls three theaters on the outskirts of the city. Itís also the countryís largest theater chain. This means that movie distributors, such as Universal and Fox, are unlikely to provide mainstream films to a downtown theater in competition with Regal. Itís also unlikely that Regal itself would open a theater downtown. It doesnít need to and stock owners have been draining cash from the chain in the form of large dividend payments. So large, in fact, that Regal has gone into debt to make them. Clearly, Regal is not in an expansion mode. Many Wall Street investors think that future growth in theaters is unlikely due to the growth of other entertainment options, such as video games, so thereís not much pressure for Regal to open new theaters.

All this means that if Manchester is to get a theater itís going to have to be a local group that invests in it and itís going to have to show smaller-budget, independent films that arenít able to show their films at Regal. Wilton Town Hall Theater in Wilton does this successfully, as does the Music Hall in Portsmouth and the Colonial Theater in Keene. However, Manchester doesnít have an old theater like Wilton, Portsmouth and Keene. The Palace is a repertory theater and all booked up with plays ó and thatís an excellent thing. Itís not a place we can show movies on a regular basis.

A model for Manchester may exist in Newburyport. There, a one-screen theater is run in a storefront called the Screening Room. Itís likely not all that profitable, but it works. It brings people from all over northern New England into Newburyport. After or before the movie, they eat in local restaurants and shop in local retail. Itís also another amenity that attracts business and a highly educated workforce in conjunction with other arts and entertainment services, such as restaurants and parks.

Itís true that a small one-screen theater wouldnít bring the thousands of people downtown a large multiplex theater would, but it would certainly be another piece to enhance the entertainment puzzle of downtown.

This is the kind of project that a small group of volunteers could help make happen with the help of InTown Manchester, the visitor and convention bureau and Manchester city government development office.
If anyone is interested in getting something like this started, please give me a call at 625-1855, Ext. 21 or e-mail at jreese@hippopress.com.

Fooderrific

If you havenít come across the radio show Chat Ďn Chew on WTPL (107.7 FM), you should take the time to listen every Sunday at 9 a.m. Itís a great local show featuring local restaurants and foodies. Our own Amy Diaz is on each week.

Under pressure from Wall Street, many radio companies have replaced local programming with national talk show hosts and bland music. This trend makes it more important for us listeners to support local programimng when we can find it. Chat ní Chew is one of those great programs.

Comments?†Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com