TRAVERSE CITY — The city commission agreed to fast track a proposal to let the Traverse City Film Festival convert the long-vacant Con Foster Museum into a 150-seat movie house.
Commissioners instructed City Manager Ben Bifoss to negotiate a 10-year contract with the Film Festival at $1 a year for use of the building at Clinch Park. The non-profit Film Festival will invest an estimated $800,000 into a historic, city-owned building that sat vacant for almost a decade. It will use it as a sister venue to its State Theatre to show daily movies year-round. The commission’s overwhelming support during Monday’s study session didn’t surprise Deb Lake, Film Festival executive director.
“It’s such a home-run idea and I think people are ready for the Bijou by the Bay in the Con Foster Museum,” Lake said.
Several commissioners expressed concerns about what condition the building would be left in if the Film Festival’s expansion doesn’t work. To accommodate the largest screen possible, the Film Festival will dig out the floor to give it a movie-house slope. It also wants to remove the seats and all movie equipment and movie fixtures if it leaves the property.
“I don’t want to see it turned back into a dump,” Commissioner Barbara Budros said.
Lake said they would return the building in as good a shape or better and level the floor.
The city received an estimate Monday that it will cost more than $800,000 to update the museum itself into a plain, useable space with bathrooms. Estes said at the least they would have new bathrooms and updated systems in the building.
Lake portrayed the second movie screen not as a risk but as a way to help cement the economic future of the State Theatre.
A second screen would give the State Theatre more flexibility. It could then hold over popular movies and also show blockbuster first releases not allowed at the State Theatre due to deed restrictions from a previous owner.
The commission instructed Bifoss to make sure the lease allows for public use of the building; identifies what fixtures and assets would remain, and addresses the floor issue.
Commissioner Jeanine Easterday cautioned staff not to feel pressured into accommodate the Film Festival when negotiating details of the lease.
“I really support this, 98 percent, ... but 2 percent of me is concerned,” Easterday said. “We’ve had some experience with the Traverse City Film Festival that at times we can be bullied.”
The Film Festival is collaborative, said John Robert Williams, a board member and co-founder of the festival.
“We will not do anything to disrespect the building and you will be amazed when we are done,” he said.