News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

February 28, 2014

Final reel

Theater known for 2nd-run films set to shutter Sunday amid declining market niche

TERRE HAUTE — When the lights fade to black at Meadows Theatre on Sunday, it will be the end of a cinematic era for Terre Haute’s east side.

The theater, known for the last 14 years for its discount prices, will close permanently Sunday after the 5:30 p.m. showings of “Captain Phillips” and “Thor: The Dark World.”

The decision to close is one of economics, co-owner Brent Barnhart said on Friday.

“We do regret having to close the doors for people, especially the young folks with children who can’t afford to go down south to the other theaters,” he said.

The conversion from film to digital projection – as well as some needed renovations to the theaters – are the reasons for the closure, he said.

“It’s been something we’ve had to think about for quite some time,” Barnhart said, noting that he has met with the Meadows management firm during the past year to discuss renovations and alternatives to closure.

It would cost an estimated quarter million dollars to renovate the two theaters and change to digital projection, Barnhart said. The conversion by itself would cost about $130,000.

There are about 40,000 movie screens in North America, he said, and only 8 percent are still running film. He knows it is a costly conversion to make because his Paris (Ill.) Theater in Illinois has already made the change.

The Paris Theater, however, is a first-run theater for new releases, and its nearest competitor is 30 miles away, so it exists in a different type of market.

The Meadows Theater is in a tough market, he explained.

“My competitor has 20 screens and can hold a movie for a long time,” he said.

“It used to be that we would get second run movies, but they weren’t out on DVD yet. Now, we get them at the same time they are on DVD. The two movies now playing are already on DVD,” he said. “Where we fit in is almost non-existent.”

Barnhart said that when he took over the theater in October of 2000 – “Gladiator” was one of the films playing – the average seating was 80,000 to 100,000 patrons per year. That has dropped significantly to about 20,000 people per year.

In a tour of the projection room of the theater, Barnhart explained how the reels of film are received and must be spliced together into one long film that goes onto a three-platter system that feeds it through the projector.

The new projectors are small computers into which the digitized movie is inserted. It is much less labor intensive, but the equipment is expensive.

It costs about $1,500 for the movie studios to make each film print that is sent to the theaters, he said.

And being a second-run theater, it is hard to get a constant rotation of films, he said.

An announcement about the closing of the Meadows Theatre hit Facebook on Wednesday. Signs have also been posted on the doors of the movie house, which has seating for 250 for each of the two screens.

Barnhart said he wanted to make an announcement to the public, rather than just close the doors and walk away. The Facebook post has received many comments of support from the public.

The loss of the theater will not only be noticed by its regular patrons, but by programs such as the summer youth camp at Deming Park. Former program manager Bruce Rosselli told the Tribune-Star that allowing the summer camp children the opportunity to walk to the theater from the park was a great supervised activity.

“Those kids whose parents allowed them to go – supervised of course – would walk up there, and for the special price of $5, they could be in the cool air and watch a movie,” Rosselli said. “It was a chance to be have a little venture out of the park.”

He also recalled his younger days and going to the theaters back in the 1970s, when it played first-run movies. Rosselli said he saw many of the numerous “Rocky” movies there.

As for the future of the theater space, Meadows manager John Ragle said the space will be renovated for retail.

“It will not remain a theater,” Ragle said. “We will flatten the floor and repurpose it.”

He said the closing of the theater is unfortunate, but it is a costly conversion and not viable for the second-run theater.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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