Columbia City Cinema Rebirth: South-Side Non-Profit Pledges to Restore Beloved Theater

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Nine months ago the venerable Columbia City Cinema became the latest local indie theater to collapse under the weight of the recession (and, in its case, city-code violations). Now, someone else is stepping in to take a stab at resurrecting this South Side institution.

SEEDArts (South East Effective Development) announced that it's planning to refurbish the cinema and reopen it, hopefully by the fall of 2013.

"When that cinema went out of business, it hurt all of us--galleries, restaurants, cafes, other businesses," says SEEDArts Director Jerri Plumridge, who's spearheading the reopening effort. "There was a group of residents that really wanted to make a reopening happen. So I connected with them, called a couple meetings, and with their energy and our organization, we felt like it was doable."

The Columbia City Cinema's demise and rebirth will mark the third local theater to go out of business, then be reopened under new management. The other cinemas to follow that path are the Uptown Cinema in Queen Anne, now run by SIFF, and the the Neptune in the University District, which is now a concert venue run by Seattle Theatre Group.

The first step in the reopening process for CCC is apparently to raise $60,000 by mid-February. The money will go toward one of the main foils that brought down the previous CCC: A lack of fire sprinklers.

One method that SEEDArts won't be pursuing in terms of fundraising is "selling stock." Precious CCC owner Paul Doyle had tried to sell "stock" in the cinema as a way of raising money and potentially giving a return on investment to donors. Unfortunately, selling stock is a highly-regulated enterprise, and Doyle soon found out that what he was doing was illegal and was asked to stop.

As for the kind of establishment that Plumridge hopes to create once the theater is completed, she says it will have a lot of the same things that made the original Columbia City Cinema shine: A vintage look, an independent-film focus, and a strong local-community connection But she hopes to improve the place with a complete renovation and to offer more in the way of art-house films, and other viewing options like showing the Olympics and election night coverage.

"The cinema is the only one between here and downtown or Capitol Hill, so it has brought a lot of attention to the area," Plumridge says. "It's really been an identifier for this community. It's a cultural space that we don't want to lose."

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