ROCK SPRINGS — After three years of argument and fighting in a court of law, in a special meeting, the Rock Springs City Council unanimously passed a settlement agreement with Movie Palace, Inc., and Encore Cinema, Inc., with regards to the Broadway Theater.
When the theater was handed over many years ago, there was a stipulation by Encore Cinema, Inc., in the contract that stated no theatrical activity could be done in the theater. When the city purchased the building and renovated it, the stipulation became an issue. The council had met in executive session several times including Tuesday night when they spent an hour looking over the final details of the agreement.
The two major details in the agreement were the city could show movies 12 days out of the year, and the city could not show movies on Friday and Saturday between the hours of 8 p.m. and 2 a.m.
These two issues had members of the Theater Board and other community investors upset that the city was giving in to Movie Palace and Encore Cinema. Before voting on the issue, Rock Springs Mayor Carl Demshar opened it up for public comment due to the amount of negative correspondence he had received since Tuesday night.
Jana Pastor has been involved with the theater and is a former Chairman of the Urban Renewal Agency Board.
“When we were given the building by the city we were told to do something that would bring people downtown,” Pastor said. “Several times we asked the city about the clause and we were told it wouldn’t be a problem because it was 50 years old. We are not trying to compete but do something for the children or the community.”
Pastor said since the beginning the theater has always been the one who has had to compromise. She added she did not see the settlement as “logical” and did not think the theater was getting anything in the settlement.
Councilman Rob Zotti questioned what it was that she did not see as fair. Paster did not feel like anything about the settlement was fair to the theater. She said she did not understand why the movie theater had to stand over their shoulder to make sure every film was all right to them.
In the discussion, Pastor also said that during the grant process they had to show how the theater would bring in money. She said the goal was for the theater to bring money in to help support other downtown projects financially.
Councilwoman Glennise Wendorf asked if this agreement would be in conflict with the grant. Pastor said it definitely would be. She said they were relying on showing movies in the theater to bring in this money.
The questions turned to the city legal counsel. The council asked if they were rushing into a decision, if they could revisit the agreement in the future to see if changes could be made and what would happen if they did not approve the settlement.
Rock Springs Assistant City Attorney Rick Beckwith spoke on these issues. While he said they city could always go back and meet with the movie theater in the future to discuss changing the settlement, he would advise against changing the document at all at this point.
Beckwith said the council could always wait and decide at a later point. He did advise there were several important court dates on the horizon and doing this now would take care of it.
If the city decided to continue to fight it in the courts, Beckwith said it is not a cut and dried case and is open to interpretation. He said the attorney’s office has publicly said they feel they have a strong case in the past, but he said it still is a coin flip for the city.
One big issue is what the definition of theatric is. Beckwith explained to some it is showing movies but to others, it is showing movies, plays, concerts and other events.
“Then you have a 2.5 million dollar storage bill,” Beckwith said.
Several audience members, including Jim Lever, felt the council was rushing into a decision. Lever not only questioned the rush but also felt the public should be more aware of the issue so they could have the opportunity to speak. He also reminded the council there were private investors who are involved with the theater.
Councilman David Halter and Wendorf have been involved with the URA and the theater for a long time, and both spoke on the issue. Halter said the settlement is a good start to “mend fences.” He added if they decided to fight the movie theater, it could close all lines of communication. He again pointed out they could meet with the movie theater in the future and possibly change the agreement.
Wendorf said she has constantly asked the city legal team what the status of this was and when they received the agreement she was happy.
Councilman Zotti also felt it was a good starting point while Councilman Clark Stith told a story this brought to mind.
He said it reminded him of the American who was lost in Ireland and asked a local for help. The local said I wouldn’t start here if I were you. He said leaving it in the hands of a judge is a coin toss, and this takes that aspect out of play.
Mayor Demshar said when all this started he was on the council and at that time, the talk of movies was a showing of “Psycho” at Halloween or “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Christmas. He said it felt like the discussions have morphed into more films than originally intended.
Demshar also said there is a lot of emotion involved because so many people put so much into making the theater a success. He explained people need to look at the entire spectrum. Right now, they are able to use it but if they continued to fight, there would be a chance they would lose the theater completely. He stressed; there was even talk about stopping the city from selling concessions at the Broadway.
“If we accept this, I know where we are, and it takes away the unknown. If we don’t, we could possibly lose it,” Demshar said.