Plans to keep Greenport’s Village Cinema open year-round have faded

06/19/2017 5:59 AM |

Greenport residents hopeful that Village Cinema would remain open year-round this season might end up disappointed.

Greenport Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said Thursday that it looks unlikely the village would be able to manage the Front Street theater in the offseason, a possibility officials had been exploring.

The mayor listed revenue sharing agreements with film distributors and the costs associated with running the theater during cold winter months as prohibitive factors in keeping it open year-round. He noted that the furnace hasn’t been used to heat the theater in more than 20 years.

“It’s not a dead issue, but based on the initial conversations we’ve had it isn’t something that us as a village would be able to do,” Mr. Hubbard said.

The original idea, floated by the mayor as a way to bring more recreation to the community in winter months, was that the village would take over operation of the four-screen theater from its owner after Labor Day. Theater owner Josh Sapan, the CEO of AMC Networks, previously told The Suffolk Times he was receptive to the idea and would lease the building to the village at no cost, though the municipality would have to cover insurance and other operational expenses.

Mr. Hubbard said at the Village Board work session Thursday that the initial excitement over the idea faded after the village became more aware of the business realities surrounding the operation of a movie theater.

“Ninety percent of the proceeds from the first week of a movie have to be returned to the [distributor],” Mr. Hubbard said.

He went on to explain to the board that because of this, theaters make most of their money off refreshment sales. The Village, however, has not identified someone to operate the concession stand there.

“We’d need concessions,” the mayor said. “That’s how you make money.”

One workaround to avoiding some of the more expensive operational costs, Mr. Hubbard said, would be to screen older films in the offseason, which would require less of a kickback to the distributors. But the mayor questioned if there’s a market for such films.

Village Trustee Doug Roberts said he thought there might be a fit with the right kind of older movies, using the original “Star Wars” trilogy as an example.

Mr. Hubbard said village officials intend to meet with Mr. Sapan again soon now that the theater has opened for the summer season to further explore the possibility.

The Greenport Theater was built in 1939, shortly after the previous theater in that location was destroyed by the 1938 hurricane, Mr. Sapan previously told The Suffolk Times. A lover of films and a part-time Shelter Island resident, the show business executive purchased the building in 2004, and renovated and re-opened it two years later.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Mr. Sapan previously said of owning the historic theater, where he collects and displays old photographs of the building. “There are people who are enthusiasts for movie theaters — and I happen to be one of them.”

Currently the eight-screen Mattituck Cinemas is the only year-round theater operating on the North Fork, though plans to bring a multiplex to the former Walmart property on Route 58 in Riverhead are in the works. Zoning variances were approved for the proposed 10-screen Riverhead theater earlier this month, but construction has not begun and the property owner hasn’t yet finalized an agreement with Regal Cinemas, the anticipated tenant.

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