Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 2, 2013

Film Fest wants shuttered museum as 2nd theater


---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Movies on the beach could become a year-round attraction if the Traverse City Film Festival can successfully convert the former Con Foster Museum into a movie house.

Film Festival officials sent a letter to the city that seeks a 10-year contract to use the vacant building in Clinch Park. The Film Festival proposes to spend $800,000 to turn the historic, city-owned building into a sister venue to its State Theatre. Officials think the facility could seat 150 to 200 patrons.

"The programming will be similar to what we have here at the State Theatre, just in a smaller, more intimate setting," said Deb Lake, Film Festival executive director. "It will be a comfortable, world class presentation, but it will be wonderfully different being right on the bay."

Plans call for the Con Foster to be open for one matinee and one evening show each day, year-round. The theater would host first-run films, art films, community screenings, and free and special events. It also would be free of the deed restriction that prevents the State Theatre from showing any new release that opens in more than 200 theaters nationwide.

Michael Moore, Film Festival co-founder and president, said the nonprofit sought a second screen location for some time and the Con Foster is the perfect location.

"I don't think I've ever seen an art house cinema on a beach," Moore said in a prepared release. "There's something very cool about it."

The Film Festival would name the theater "Bijou on the Bay" and hopes to hold its grand opening during the Traverse City Film Festival that begins July 30. Film Festival organizers are reaching out to major donors who can cover the majority of the costs of the new Bijou with the remainder of the funding to come from the sale of seat sponsorships and matching donations, Lake said.

The Film Festival proposes to take over all property maintenance, repairs, utility costs, and improvements in exchange for use of the building. City Manager Ben Bifoss said it would be similar to arrangements the city has with other nonprofits for use of such facilities as the Traverse City Opera House and History Center.

The city commission will discuss the proposal in a study session Monday at 7 p.m. in the Governmental Center.

"I personally think it's a great fit and a great venue considering what we are doing with the Open Space and the money we are putting into improving the tunnel," said Mayor Michael Estes. "I think it fits in with what the city wants to accomplish there, making the park usable to the public year-round."

Theater parking would be in city lots along Grandview Parkway with access through the tunnel under the parkway at Cass Street that will be remodeled this spring.

Estes said his concerns will be with lease details.

"The city would have to ensure it maintains control over the property at all times, that any improvements would be acceptable to the city, ... and that any improvements become the property of the city," Estes said.

Several other nonprofits, including the National Cherry Festival, considered moving into the Con Foster but decided against it for a variety of reasons.

The building didn't make economic sense for the Cherry Festival due to its size and condition, said Trevor Tkach, Cherry Festival executive director.

"It's not beautiful; it needs a lot of work," Tkach said. "I think it's a good thing for Traverse City, making use of an underutilized resource."

Film Festival officials are past the just-looking stage, Lake said. They already had theater consultants inside the building when they were considering it as one of the venues for the summer film festival. Most of the renovations would be to the interior.

"It's built like a bunker; it has no windows; already has air conditioning in place and it's the right size for us," Lake said. "We are extremely excited about it."