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Your Southbury Movie Theater Questions, Answered

Bob & Kevin LaFlamme, the family proposing the Riverview Cinema & Playhouse project, field questions from our readers, and address some concerns.

Photo credit: some rights reserved by cheriejoyful via Flickr Creative Commons.
Photo credit: some rights reserved by cheriejoyful via Flickr Creative Commons.
Since Patch readers still have questions about the Riverview Cinema and Playhouse project, Patch asked Bob and Kevin LaFlamme, who are proposing the project, to answer a few of the most common concerns from our boards.

The LaFlamme family happily obliged, and their answers are below.

In addition, an open letter to the community from the LaFlammes is attached.

Don't forget, the rescheduled Public Hearing on the potential Southbury movie theater complex happens Wednesday, Jan. 15 at Pomperaug High School, 234 Judd Road, Southbury, at 7:30 p.m.

1. Traffic issues are still of the utmost concern. if possible, would you be able to provide an idea of what a staggered release traffic pattern might actually look like? For example, during the evening commute on a school night, what strategies might be employed to minimize the additional traffic flow?


It should be emphasized that increased traffic is not the test for the Commission’s consideration as any undeveloped site, once developed, will have increased traffic—increased traffic is merely the result of normal growth and development. What is important is that the traffic is properly managed. Our traffic study prepared by an expert traffic engineer, shows that the traffic peak of the movie theater (evening hours) does not coincide with the traffic peak on the adjacent roadway system i.e. Main Street South (commuter hours). People usually go home before they go to theater. The traffic volumes on Main Street South are at least 45 percent lower during the
anticipated peak periods of the movie theater.

The traffic analysis is based upon a commuter peak period to present a conservative (worst case) analysis—even though the theater peak is actually later. Nearly 60 percent of the traffic arrives and departs via local roads. All of the intersections and site driveways are anticipated to operate at an overall acceptable level of service under the future (2015) combined Friday evening and Saturday mid-day peak hour traffic conditions (worst case) with no significant impact at the intersections or site driveways.

Many of our readers support the idea of an additional traffic light. While it appears the traffic study didn't find an additional light absolutely necessary, is that something you would support?

All site driveways to the Southbury Village Square Development should be designed according to Town of Southbury and CTDOT standards. Our studies and those standards do not warrant a traffic light. We would only support a traffic light if it were warranted.

However, we are open to ideas to improve the access in and out of the site and at Exit 14 that may be accomplished by re-lining the existing roadway to facilitate left turners into the site and the pass-by traffic. There is a traffic light shared by this parcel and post office that is available to the property that can be accessed from behind the post office.

With the staggered movie times, the number of cars coming into the site at any one time during peak hours is well under regulatory threshold for a light.

Many readers fear losing the "small-town feel" of Southbury, and are concerned that a theater might result in a more "urban" feel. Are there ways in which Riverview might contribute to that small-town community feeling, rather than detract from it?

Besides the resurgence of a Playhouse use – the following is a sampling of what the cinema and playhouse will have to offer:

— Entertainment for all ages/interests

— Special perks for Senior population: i.e. early viewing hours (sync with lunch out); variety of movie choices; special prices, senior days

— Clubs: link early viewing of select films with expert-led discussion group

— Fun nights out for families, couples, friends and neighbors

— The theater may hold local Film Festival –will corroborate with the Southbury Film Commission to show CT produced films

— Corroborative venture with The Main Street Theater Company to bring live theater back to Southbury at this venue– to inspire, nurture and guide the energies and talent of area youth- theater summer camp

— Charity campaign in lobby, i.e. Bone Marrow Donor Campaign

— Special prices for active military personnel home on leave/seniors

— Special showings with proceeds going to charities

— Special themes - i.e. American Graffiti with 1960’s period cars on display

— Re-broadcast high school away games (or other games) on the big screen either simulcast or next morning– possible booster club fund raiser.

— Use of basement for emergency shelter

— Bring in knowledgeable theater people to lead discussions about movies and live theater (i.e. simulcast of opera or drama such as recent Macbeth offering)

— Together the cinema and playhouse will create a community cultural arts center.

— An idea is to allow local talent to entertain a few minutes before the movies. This is a positive for the theater, the audience, the community, and the artist.

— The cinema and playhouse provides a venue to display art of local artists.

— It has been shown that when people use a community, its streets become safer and feel safer. The use by families and seniors will support the “clean atmosphere” sought.

— Library program, reward to reading a certain number of books.

This design will be of a home-town scaled Southbury-centric feel with a quality design, pedestrian scale, and country setting that preserves the view over the Pomperaug River Valley.

Simsbury is often described as a classic New England town with a population (approximately 23,000 in 2010) that is slightly more than Southbury (over 19.000) and has a parallel sense of place and goal with Southbury, to maintain the feel of a country small town. Simsbury is located in the Farmington Valley that was once dotted with one or two screen movie theaters that became an “endangered species” beginning in the late 1970’s. By 1984, the last area cinema disappeared when Avon Twin Cinemas closed.

For the next 15 years, area residents who wanted to view a first-run movie had to drive to out-of-the-way locations. In 1999 Hoyts Cinemas Corp. opened an eight-screen theater in Simsbury, convenient to the bordering towns of Avon and Canton. Initially when the theater was only a proposal, there was opposition by some who feared a deterioration of the community due to increased traffic and crime.

Today, the cinema survives as an important part of the Simsbury community; our inquiries with the Simsbury Town Planner indicate that theater has not destroyed Simsbury’s sense of place or been a crime problem; recently Simsbury was listed by Money Magazine as one of the 50 best small towns in the US. This is true even though the Simsbury Theater is without many of the attributes of this application, such as the Playhouse, that make our proposal even more small-town and culturally oriented.

This proposal is for a family-run, town center theater that will appeal to families and give patrons a sense of community; unlike Simsbury the architecture is not urban in design, but rather of an attractive Southbury-style, pedestrian-scaled architecture that will complement and enhance the Southbury Center. If Simsbury has maintained its sense of place with the Hoyt 8-screen theater, Southbury can definitely do the same with our community-oriented proposal.

Some readers say that if Riverview were to function in a way similar to the scope and size of a smaller independent theater like Bethel
Cinema, they would be more likely to support it. Could you provide some key differences and similarities to that particular theater, since it's the one most frequently referenced for comparison?

Bethel is a 4-screen theater without the same ability to provide the diversity that we will offer that is geared to Southbury’s demographics. We believe our proposal with room for First Run Movies, opera and drama simulcasts, provides the right options to be a successful, sustainable theater for Southbury’s population. Providing a choice of movies at one location is akin to a television that once had only three or four channels and now has over a hundred--it is hard to imagine going back to three or four choices.

Approximately how many jobs might Riverview bring to the area?

The cinema alone will create approximately 48 new jobs in Southbury, for both part-and full-time, and about ½ high school and college age. This is the kind of job that can be a great first job where young people can continue to work during college. Further, it is an “in-town” job—important to many parents of teenage drivers and to seniors that are looking for work close by.

The restaurant, retail use and Playhouse will add to these job numbers. In addition, there will be good construction jobs- a boon to the area construction workers that have been sidelined by the economic downturn.

Finally, some readers mention the changing landscape of the movie industry, and worry that given emerging digital technology, movie theaters could see a decline over the next few years. They fear that if the movie theater didn't thrive, it would create a burden for the town. I realize you can't predict the future, but is there anything you can say to assuage some of those fears?

First of all, in spite of the home theater developments, the movie industry in 2013 had the most people ever to go to a movie upon its release, November 22, 2013, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Theatrical Market Statistics 2012 published by the Motion Picture Association of America reports that in 2012, “the U.S./Canada box office was $10.8 billion, up 6 percent compared
to $10.2 billion in 2011, and up 12 percent from five years ago. 3D box office was similar to 2011 ($1.8 billion), despite fewer 3D film releases.

The 2012 increase in U.S./Canada box office was due to an equivalent increase in admissions (6 percent) compared to 2011, as admissions reached 1.36 billion, while the average cinema ticket price stayed flat. More than two-thirds of the U.S./Canada population (68 percent) – or 225 million people – went to the movies at least once in 2012, consistent with prior years.

Ticket sales continue to be driven by frequent moviegoers who attend once a month or more. In 2012, frequent moviegoers represented 13 percent of the population and 57 percent of all movie tickets, an increase of 7 percentage points in ticket share from 2011, at the expense of occasional moviegoer ticket share. This suggests that the increase in ticket sales in 2012 was among moviegoers who increased their attendance from less than once a month, to once a month or more . . . .2012 saw increases in the number of frequent moviegoers in nearly every ethnicity and age group, notably in the 40-49 year old group. In 2012, 48 percent of all U.S./Canada moviegoers viewed at least one movie in 3D ... .” All these statistics are on the back of 2009, which even in the midst of a recession, was a record-setting year for ticket sales.

We are aware that there are many reasons why the movie business remains strong in the face of digital technology. You can buy a 76-inch LCD, but it does not hold a candle to theaters with nice seats and the state of the art digital technology of the theater. Some movies deserve the 30-foot screen to provide the awe that results from a great filmmaker's imagination on a 2:41
scale (Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Out of Africa provide an experience that is not equaled even on a large screen TV). Movie theater owners such as our family are aware of our niche and to that end have made the upgrades to both the visual and sound experience to provide that special experience.

There is also the cost factor. If you were to equip your home for maximum home theater experience (HDTV, surround sound, high-end speakers, Blu-ray player, etc.), it would cost roughly $1,500 for a quality high-definition high tech large screen television, about $500 for a good audio system and about say $300 for a Blu-ray player, plus the cost of speakers and cables, certainly more than $3,000.

Compare this to the ticket and concession costs (popcorn, candy and soda) for 2 people – about $50. At a 5 outings a year it would take 12 years to
spend the same amount as equipping your home and the home theater will be obsolete long before that. To actually mimic the theater experience would cost much more than $3000. Even so, it is unlikely that a home owner will pay for or have the technical skill to get speakers calibrated and positioned for the optimal surround experience that occurs in a theater.

Another reason for sustainability of the industry is the community experience that many peoplefeel when watching a movie in a theater with others—the sense of foreboding in a mystery, laughing together in a comedy, crying together in a drama—there is a kind of connection that cannot be achieved at home by oneself. The theater ambience with the aroma of popcorn and huge film posters is appealing. In this case the combination of the fine Southbury-centric architecture and interior with popcorn, state of the art stadium seating (without the usual blockage from person in front of you), digital projection and special technology for the hearing impaired will provide a distinct attractive alternative to the more secluded TV experience at
home.

Friday or Saturday night dinner and theater are a kind of ritual that remains even with advanced home theater technology—people actually want to get out of the house.

The prices of renting or purchasing blu-ray movies is often enough that it does not outweigh the big-screen experience—and many times those DVD's or Blu-ray's are never watched again. Netflix provides and affordable alternative, but it requires waiting for the movie to be released to DVD. It turns out that it's human nature to have an interest in seeing popular movies when they first come out – it allows the conversation with co-workers at the water cooler or with friends. Internet tickets can be purchased in advance to enable moviegoers to see the movie at the earliest release cycle, in the best viewing environment, among people who also chose the same movie.

We know there are some people that may prefer their home theater with the comfort of their own seating, no interruptions unless they allow them, sound calibrated the way the owner likes it, preference to viewing a movie alone, not limited to the food offerings at the theater, and don’t care if they can’t discuss the latest movie with others. However, there are enough people who like the experience to support the industry that continues to produce movies, and some very good ones. The Theater industry study above shows that.

We can stay at home and watch a football game, baseball, basketball and many other sporting events, the list goes on and on. Does that mean we will never go to a stadium, to watch a game? We go to interact with other people.

Please remember, every time a new technology comes out, there are always people who predict the end of the Cinema Experience. Think back with television, the VCR, cable, DVDs etc, all of the aforementioned were predicted to end the Cinema Experience. As you can see we're still here. A movie on your TV is still a TV movie, without the Cinema Experience, that gets moviegoers excited about new upcoming films, you would merely be watching just another TV movie.

As far as the viability of the Cinema business, Cinemas are being successfully built all over the World. If we are fortunate enough to be approved, we would work very hard, in the Family Business we love, to provide the best possible entertainment, in a beautiful facility, at very
reasonable prices.

The editor thanks Bob and Kevin LaFlamme for taking the time to answer these questions.









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