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The Palace Theater in Lake Placid, late on a Saturday night. Photos: Natasha Haverty
The Palace Theater in Lake Placid, late on a Saturday night. Photos: Natasha Haverty

Theaters look to economic council for support

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Helping small-town movie theaters with the upcoming conversion from film to digital projection has been labeled a regional priority by the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.

John Huttlinger is president of the Lake Placid-based Adirondack Film Society. He says the council recognizes the importance of movie theaters in rural North Country communities. The film society recently teamed up with 13 movie theaters across the region to explore funding opportunities to help with the conversion.

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Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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Adirondack Film Society President John Huttlinger says his group will meet with state and local officials to develop a plan to keep theaters open.

“The fact that it’s a council priority means that the council has identified this project as one that’s potentially vital for the region and that they’re willing to put their support behind the project even though it’s not in the current round of funding,” Huttlinger told theEnterprise. “What I think that does for the project is it sets it up for success in next year’s round of funding.”

By the end of 2013, the film industry will complete a conversion from celluloid film to digital film. That means movie theaters across the country will need to replace movie screens, projectors and sound equipment. The cost of making the switch could range from $80,000 to $125,000 per screen, depending on the size of the theater.

TheNorth Countryis home to 37 movie screens at 13 theaters that may be forced to either convert or close. The total cost of the conversion could be nearly $3 million.

At a public forum this summer, several theater owners said the conversion would be too expensive for them on their own. Theaters across theNorth Countryemploy more than 120 people and generate an economic impact of more than $11 million, according to the Adirondack Film Society.

GarryDouglasco-chairs the region’s economic development council. He wrote in an email that community revitalization and sustainability are areas of strategic importance for the council.

Douglassays the survival of small independent movie theaters is important to the council.

Huttlinger says theater conversion aid could be inserted into the council’s plan for next year. That could lead to funding through the council.

“The overall success of this project, I think, will depend on a combination of public support from various agencies plus private support,” Huttlinger said.

Using state funds to help private businesses is a controversial idea, and the effort will likely need the sort of private support Huttlinger is talking about.

State Sen. Betty Little said in a recent interview that it would be unfortunate to lose theaters, but she’s not sure the state can afford to buy the equipment necessary to make the conversion.

But Huttlinger says this situation is unique because movie theaters often serve as community centers.

“They’re also historic and cultural in that they’re part of people’s lives,” he said. “The fact that they may disappear would mean it would create a void, both from an economic standpoint and from a cultural and historic standpoint.”

During a visit toLake Placidin August, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the regional economic development council should take the lead in looking for ways to help theaters.

“Their job is to identify the economic needs within the region, prioritize those needs, and then they come to the state, and we figure out how we can help,” the governor said.

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