The future of the IMAX theater in downtown Spokane appears more clouded in the wake of a Riverfront Park advisory committee’s recent recommendation to stop showing movies there.
The group’s recommendation is part of an overall report on current planning concepts for Riverfront Park presented last month to the Spokane Park Board, which will make final decisions about any future changes as part of a master plan process.
“I think the advisory committee saw that location as being too isolated to really have a thriving theater there,” says Juliet Sinisterra, the park’s master plan project manager.
Rather, she says, the committee decided it would prefer to see more activities and programs that have more flexibility.
“They’re trying to move away from too many permanent entertainment facilities on Havermale Island,” Sinisterra says.
The 20-member panel says it will consider other potential uses for the IMAX building, while developing overall park planning details to present to the park board next year for a 40-year master plan.
Sinisterra says some ideas for the IMAX structure might include developing a food court or other support services for a proposed, neighboring outdoor amphitheater that the panel is recommending be installed inside of the Pavilion.
The IMAX theater, which would require a number of upgrades to modernize it, drew 36,600 visitors in 2012, down from 47,500 in 2011. It recorded a $342,000 loss last year, compared with a $326,000 loss in the prior year. Its attendance peaked in 2005, with 106,000 visitors.
The Park Board decided last year to run movies at the IMAX from spring through Labor Day, mainly closing the theater during winter months except for special engagements.
The city has estimated the cost of upgrades to install digital system equipment at roughly $450,000, which would be needed in the near future because the film industry is abandoning traditional 35mm and 70mm film production. In 2009, one of the 20 theaters in the AMC River Park Square multiplex was retrofitted with an IMAX digital projection system and larger screen to show new-release IMAX movies.
Separately, the panel also recently recommended that the Ice Palace become a more intimate recreational rink at a location yet to be determined.
The Riverfront Park advisory panel began work last spring to develop details for the park’s future uses and estimates of related costs. The panel was formed after the park board approved a conceptual first phase of a park master plan in 2012.
The primary purpose of the panel’s work on the master plan this year is to detail and prioritize the strategies outlined in that first phase to guide future growth and development for Riverfront Park. The committee’s chairman is Ted McGregor, publisher of The Pacific Northwest Inlander.
Other committee members include representatives from such companies and entities as Avista Corp., the Chase Youth Commission, Downtown Spokane Partnership, Visit Spokane, Hoopfest, Bloomsday, Spokane Riverkeeper, the Spokane Public Facilities District, and the city of Spokane, as well as business owners.
Sinisterra says committee members haven’t yet discussed recommending any timeframe if the park board decides to discontinue use of the IMAX as a theater.
She says the advisory panel’s work in developing details for the master plan will go through a process to prioritize concepts.
“Again, that will go to the park board,” she says. “I’m not sure where the IMAX will fall into that. We haven’t had the conversation about that.”
The park board wants to have a detailed master plan and cost estimates completed by next spring. It also plans to present a bond measure to voters by November 2014 that would help pay for improvements to the 100-acre park.
Contact Treva Lind at (509) 344-1267 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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