In a lengthy newsletter that went around to all Columbia City Cinema subscribers yesterday, owner Paul Doyle announced that the cinema is closed after the city denied its request for extra time to install sprinklers. CCC had been in survival mode for the past year, faced with shrinking attendance and rising debt, and had turned to the community for help. Doyle even offered stock options for the cinema—until the state put its foot down.
But it sounds like the doors are officially closing. Excerpted from the newsletter for the week of May 6:
The Cinema’s Farewell Address
It’s been a long great run but it’s over. The cinema is closed. The city killed it.
Last week, while we thought we were still working with the city, city government closed the cinema by order of the mayor, the fire marshall and the building department.
They said we were not making sufficient progress toward installing fire sprinklers. That’s hard to understand or even believe, since we had dug ourselves out of the $80,000 hole the city put us in, gotten drawings, obtained permits, asked for bids, awarded the contract, and were a week or two away from beginning. Why is that not sufficient progress? We asked for a two month extension and were denied…
The closure will:
Force the cinema into bankruptcy.
Create another vacant building.
Put 12 people out of work.
Cost the city $90,000 in tax, loan and sprinkler hookup revenue.
Devastate the economic life of a business community that depends on the cinema for traffic.
Cause the loss of over $200,000 for Columbia City investors and supporters.
Anger and disappoint thousands of families, schools, churches, day cares, youth groups and businesses that depend on the cinema…
In Doyle’s "brief history of what went down," the city shut CCC once already last year when it learned the cinema didn’t have a sprinkler system in place. Doyle met with city reps on multiple occasions to work out a solution, but "it seemed like a vendetta against the cinema from the beginning for stepping over the line." They got a temporary occupancy permit, but the closure had already cost the cinema $80,000 in lost revenue and put thoughts of sprinklers on the backburner.
It goes on…
In December, the community came forward and saved the cinema. Then our occupancy permit expired. Citing the progress we had made, we asked for a six month extension to give us time to raise the necessary financing and promised completion by the end of summer. We never dreamed we wouldn’t get it. But the city denied the request and gave us 60 days. That was not enough time to raise the approximate $35,000 needed for the first phase…
At this point, we asked the mayor’s office for help to get us an extension. We had put together a financing package and the big summer movies were coming. We could get it done if we got the time…but we had to stay open or there simply would not be enough cash flow. Just two more months. After all, the building had been without sprinklers and without a fire for 90 years. But it was like dealing with the Mafia. They pressed the robot response button and again said no…
If it were a problem of safety, then the Uptown, the Oak Tree, the Crest and the Admiral would have to have sprinklers and they don’t. So while I’m sad things turned out this way I’m not angry. I don’t even hate the small-minded, soulless bureaucrats specifically responsible. But I do want you to know the truth.
UPDATED 5/9/11. The city responds in a letter to the Seattle Times, noting that it had tried to work with CCC for nearly a year to resolve safety issues but that Doyle chose to close rather than comply with requirements. It also states that the cinema had been operating illegally for several years (sans proper permits and sprinklers).