A look at the whole picture when talking about a theater

Published 1:22 am Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Selma City Council is expected to discuss the possibility of a movie theater coming to town.

Employees of the Selma Community Development Department proffered the project at a recent city council work session. It sparked a lively debate and likely will again on Tuesday.

If you’ll remember, a movie theater was included in the bond issue that failed earlier this year. It’s uncertain if voters would approve a bond issue to work jointly with a group to develop a movie theater in town. The bond issue rejected by voters included myriad projects.

Email newsletter signup

Certainly, getting in the car with gas prices as they are and driving to Prattville or Montgomery or even Greenville seems bothersome and expensive. Add the gas cost to the price of a movie ticket — for example at the Carmike Promenade Cinema 12, a ticket costs $7. Most people will purchase concessions, which amounts to $3 for sodas and $4 for popcorn. Rarely does anyone go to the movies alone, so multiply the cost by two.

The cost factor implies a good reason for locating a theater in Selma.

But let’s consider some other points.

Demographics show that smaller theaters that exist in the region with larger theaters usually have a problem getting first-run movies. And if the smaller theaters get first-run movies, the theater owners generally have to guarantee attendance or gross sales.

Now consider that 2 percent fewer people attended movies regularly from mid-July 2006 to mid-July 2007, according to the Motion Picture Association of America’s 2007 Movie Attendance Study — the latest date for which one is available.

Here are some other factors to consider: Most theaters in smaller cities fare better when the theater is downtown, rather than in a mall. According to “Boomtown U.S.A.,” a study of small cities written by sociologist Jack Shultz, people are more likely to locate in a small city if it has a vibrant downtown, small shops, walking paths and pedestrian ways and places to live downtown. Consider also that the most frequent moviegoers, according to the MPAA study, at 85 percent range in age from 12 to 48-years-old. The greatest portion of those is from 25 to 48-years-old.

Proposing a movie theater in the old Goody’s location in the Selma Mall would, on its face, seem contradictory to other studies. Similarly, adding a ticket tax of $1 — for a total price of $8 per ticket before concessions — seems pretty steep.

The proposal of a theater is a good discussion topic. It merits much debate, but not just among city officials. The retail committee of the Selma Chamber of Commerce should come into the discussion, as should other economic development groups as should various other interest groups, such as the Dallas County Arts Alliance or the Focus Group.

Movies are fun. They represent commerce. Movie theaters provide jobs, but not the kind of jobs of a cigar factory or large retail establishment or manufacturing firm.

Movie theaters are similar to the cherry on top of a well-made sundae. Right now, we need the whole banana to give some stability to our economy, then we can apply the garnish.