Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 5, 2013

Film Fest wants flashing marquee at movie house

By BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Flashing lights designed to awe tourists and make a statement about the city could become part of Clinch Park if city commissioners agree to accommodate Traverse City Film Festival officials.

Film festival president Michael Moore and executive director Deb Lake want to put a three-sided, illuminated marquee with brilliant chase lights on the converted Con Foster Museum building in the city’s remodeled bayfront park.

The city’s sign ordinance bans blinking or moving lights, but festival officials want the city commission to grant an exception for theaters.

“It’s a movie theater and we want it to look authentic,” Moore said. “If you turned off all of the lights on the State Theatre, how would it look?”

Many city officials don’t appear overly star-struck and voiced concern, if not outright disapproval over the flashing marquee proposal. They plan to consider the request at the Sept. 9 city commission meeting.

The Film Festival raised funds to renovate the dilapidated, city-owned Con Foster building into a small, modern movie house. Festival officials rent the building from the city for $1 a year, and they contend they need flashing lights to attract people to the theater’s unusual location and create a total movie experience.

The Bijou temporarily opened during the Film Festival last month and is expected to go into full-time service in October.

The proposed marquee would stretch almost 15 feet across the building, is over 10 feet deep and stands about 8 feet tall. The city board of zoning appeals approved a variance to allow the marquee to extend about a foot higher than the building, but unanimously rejected the request for dazzling, flashing lights after Lake refused to offer any compromise.

“It doesn’t fit with the character of a bayfront park,” said Margaret Szajner, who sits on both the zoning board and city parks and recreation commission. “Are we going to change the rules every time one person wants something different?”

Moore countered by pointing out that the great waterfronts of America -- from the Navy Pier in Chicago to the city of Detroit’s riverfront -- are steeped in lights and lighting.

“The city has already initiated a whole new lighting system and (Clinch Park) is really lit up at night,” Moore said.

But some commissioners don’t like the idea of moving lights and are reluctant to overrule the zoning board.

“I can’t imagine overruling another public body that unanimously voted against it,” Mayor Michael Estes said. “I just don’t think it’s going to fly.”

Commissioner Jim Carruthers said he can support a lighted marquee but doesn’t understand or agree with the need for flashing lights.

Film festival officials argued the marquee will do for the bayfront what the State Theatre has done for Traverse City’s downtown.

“The brilliant moving lights of the State Theatre are the heartbeat of not only the theater, but of downtown TC,” festival officials wrote. “It has made downtown a hip and lively place to be and the ripple effect has been amazing for the business community and the area’s overall quality of life.”

But a bayfront park is not the downtown, Estes said.

“If anything, I would like to see the bayfront calmed down,” Estes said. “I don’t want a constant amusement park.”

Moore plans a more detailed presentation for the city commission than what was presented to the zoning board and said he’ll demonstrate that what they plan will be both “cool and tasteful.

“I think they will really like it,” he said.