Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 14, 2013

Film Fest breaks ground on new movie house

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — City officials have brought down the house — or at least the roof — for the Traverse City Film Festival and its fast-track effort to convert the Con Foster Museum into a movie theater.

City officials pushed through about a year’s worth of zoning changes, legal work, contracts, permits and plan approvals in about one month’s time to accommodate the Film Festival.

City Manager Ben Bifoss said he also gave the go-ahead to begin demolition and remove the roof prior to obtaining city commission approval on a finalized construction contract.

The commission approved the contract this week, sight unseen.

“The result of this agreement is we got a much improved building and it eliminates our maintenance ... and utility costs and we get public restrooms,” Estes said. “It is phenomenal this stuff is happening. It’s a huge plus for Traverse City.”

City commissioners rarely read every word in contracts they approve, Estes said. The commission establishes concepts and relies on the city manager and city attorney for the language.

Commissioners encouraged city officials to push along the project, based on a combination of converting the Con Foster into a year-round attraction after a decade of disuse, and the Film Festival’s impressive track record of accomplishments.

“There are some very credible people behind the project that makes it more comfortable that the project will be well done,” said Commissioner Jeanine Easterday. “And the people of the city are behind it.”

City officials also required the Film Festival to deposit $600,000 with the city before it began construction and to cover the cost of an architect hired by the city to monitor the project.

The estimated $750,000 project will convert the 1934 building into a 184-seat movie house to act as a second screen for the Film Festival’s State Theatre. The festival’s goal is to finish the project by July 29, in time for movie screenings at this summer’s annual film festival.

“We have to meet the deadline; we don’t have a choice,” said architect Bob Stowe. “We have events scheduled for the film festival.”

The Film Festival also will be in a push to meet its $750,000 fundraising goal to cover the advance to the city. The festival raised just over $307,000 so far, aided by a $250,000 donation from Richard and Diana Milock.

The Film Festival will call its theater Bijou by the Bay, but the Con Foster name will remain on the building. Con Foster was a Traverse City mayor who is credited with advocating for the Open Space. His regular job was as manager of a movie house now named the State Theatre.

The conversion to movie house will have little impact on the historic building. The Film Festival will raise the roof about two and a half feet at the center and excavate about two feet from the floor to create sloped theater seating.

“It’s basically a roof and a floor project with a lot of interior design,” Stowe said.