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Your Southbury Movie Theater Questions, Answered

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

Photo courtesy of cheriejoyful via Flickr Creative Commons.
Photo courtesy of 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 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.
Jon Norris January 15, 2014 at 09:33 AM
Worth pointing out is that a Planned Development District (which is what the promoters are asking for) "MAY be authorized" by the Zoning Commission. Hopefully they will think long and hard before sticking this thing in the middle of our town.
Joe McMahon January 15, 2014 at 11:01 AM
Hey Patch...waiting on advertising dollars? Convenient getting the developers propaganda printed the day of the public hearing. I use the word propaganda since, once again, we are led to believe there's nothing but an upside to this project. The developers information is misleading the Southbury residents once again as the facts remain one-sided. So..I'll chime in again. This multiplex won't do much for this town besides add convenience for those who find it a hassle to leave town. This multiplex won't really help our existing businesses since typically, moviegoers don't do other shopping (UCONN School of Business case study, 8/30/11). The movie theater itself would probably do well initially as would the "chain" restaurant that comes with it...yet another great "attraction" to Southbury...ugh. 48 jobs? These are 48 slots..basically a pool of 48 people to pull from for specific showings. This isn't creating 48 "jobs". Even the larger mulitplex's don't run that level of staffing. Smoke & mirrors again. That Simsbury theater they promoted here, well...since it opened, Simsbury has shown an increase in robberies, burglaries, arson, and auto-theft (none that can be directly related to the theater...but those are the numbers). Then there's the movie theater vs. home experience that was discussed, basically telling us we can't afford a decent home theater and how it's only $50 for two at the movies. $50 for 2 hours. Here's what's going on at these multiplex's...movie tickets are too high (this is why 3D movies are dying..we gave up paying those prices). Popcorn / soda prices $20 - $25. That's a lot of popcorn and soda at my house. Theaters give you "big" portions to make you think you're really getting your money's worth. You're not. And best of all, that lovely movie theater "experience". People talking on cell phones, texting...it's an experience alright. I enjoy a movie at the theater once in a while but have definitely left frustrated on many occasions. Also, please stop trying to tell us that the Danbury, Waterbury crowds won't be coming here. When the developer said they surveyed Pomperaug students about the theater, it gave me an idea. So here's my survey. I surveyed high school seniors at two Waterbury high schools and when asked if they knew there was a multiplex theater in Southbury, would they come. Here are the results: of 108 students surveyed (65 from JFK & 43 from Wilby) 97 (that's near 90%) said they would come to Southbury to see a movie. The developer knows this. As a matter of fact, they are counting on this. They are well aware of the 10 mile radius demographic of Southbury and know that the larger city populations are going to be a major part of their revenue. Let's get to those statisics on the box office sales that the developer is misleading us with. Those statistics are straight from movie industry reports (MPAA). The Motion Picture Association of America, represents the movie studios and spins information to make the movie industry appear healthy. Well, here are the real facts folks. Movie ticket sales are declining, steadily. Notice how the developer tells you about the 6% increase in sales compared to "2011". Why compare to 2011..what happened to 2012? Maybe they used 2011 because it was the worst year for ticket sales since 1995. If they used 2012 numbers it would be a 11% decline as opposed to a 6% increase. In fact, movie ticket sales are down over 100 million from a decade ago. Do you see the one sided message here. At least be open and honest, give us the whole picture. That's not how business works though. We need to do our own homework since there is so much at stake here. It will be too late once the shovel goes in the ground. Help keep our town beautiful, help keep our home values up, and help keep Southbury....Southbury. Thanks for taking the time to read.
Holly Taylor January 15, 2014 at 11:58 AM
Just a thought...I lived in Southbury before there was even a Southbury Plaza. When the plaza came in the big store was Read's, does anyone remember Read's?? A very nice upscale store. Read's went out of business and then we had Jordan Marsh, another nice store. They went out of business. Now what do we have - KMART, in my opinion the bottom of the barrel. Wake up people!!! The movie theatre will close and we will be stuck with another big box junk store.
Jason Decremer January 15, 2014 at 12:59 PM
The actual crime statistics from Simsbury has reported a decrease over the past 12 years, the link here provides more detail. http://www.cityrating.com/crime-statistics/connecticut/simsbury.html#.UtbHKGwo4dU In terms of box office returns here is a link that shows the year over year grosses all the way back to 1980. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/?view2=domestic&view=releasedate&p=.htm I am by no means an expert on crime or the box office. I figured someone should provide actual data to this discussion. If there is additional data out there that contradicts what I found, please share.
Keith Stone January 15, 2014 at 01:01 PM
Hey Joe McMahon. " That Simsbury theater they promoted here, well...since it opened, Simsbury has shown an increase in robberies, burglaries, arson, and auto-theft (none that can be directly related to the theater...but those are the numbers). " Then why even mention it? You can say the same about a church or upscale restaurant that opened at the same time period, but why would you? A little smoke and mirrors on your end...
Joe McMahon January 15, 2014 at 01:14 PM
Jason..Simsbury reported a decrease in "overall crime"..yes. I left out murder, rape...didn't see those categories as relevant. The categories I did mention, suffered some. Keith...the developer used Simsbury as a comparison model. I used Simsbury to illustrate a point.
Joe McMahon January 15, 2014 at 01:30 PM
Sorry Jason...forgot your box office topic. Don't be fooled by total dollar amounts. Tickets sold is the key. Less tickets sold bringing in more dollars is just telling you that the movie industry / theaters are selling fewer tickets but raising prices to compensate. Eventually, people won't go, which is exactly what's happening to the 3D genre. Priced themselves out of patrons. Bottom line is there are less tickets being sold. This industry is one technology advancement away from denouement.
Jon Norris January 15, 2014 at 01:34 PM
My letter in today's Voices didn't make it to the online edition so here it is in case you haven't seen it: Is it too early to submit a nomination for Southbury’s Person of the Year for 2014? My nomination is for Planning Commissioner Ed Hatfield who held to his convictions despite the pleadings of his fellow Planning Commissioners. At Planning’s January 7th , meeting, when considering whether to refer the Cineplex project to Zoning, , he was the lone “No” vote. He heard all the evidence and came to the only rationale conclusion anyone interested in the town’s quality of life could come to. At that meeting, the more commissioners Gore and Antilla talked, the more concerned they sounded about the fact that every single movie-goer to the proposed 8-screen Cineplex will have to make a left-hand turn across Main Street South at an unsignaled intersection. Will a light be needed? Will more turn lanes have to be provided? Mr. Antilla suggested that the referral include a recommendation that Zoning retain its own traffic engineer. At the suggestion of our land use coordinator DeLoris Curtis, Mr. Gore and the others quickly endorsed language that the traffic issue should be “focused on” in the “detailed plan.” To an ignorant resident such as myself, that sounds like green-lighting the project and working out the details later. Will the traffic be a problem? In the words of Mr. Antilla, “Time will tell.” Of course, I want to see this awful idea scuttled, but what about the next ten horrible ideas that will inevitably percolate through our land use boards unchallenged and unnoticed? If the Chairmen of Planning (Ed Gore) and Zoning (Gary Giroux) want to make the residents aware of proposed projects like the Cineplex they should use the means at their disposal (i.e. town web page, signs on the proposed sites) to do so. Like I said, If they want to.
Angela Tosti Flynn January 15, 2014 at 01:36 PM
So wish I could be there tonight. Middle school concert is a conflict. I did put my thoughts in writing and brought it to the zoning office yesterday. Hope to read about the meeting later.
Jason Decremer January 15, 2014 at 01:56 PM
Joe...The statistics just do not support the end of the movie industry as you see it. Have there been down years, of course most businesses have those. The data clearly shows that over the past decade an average of 1.4 million tickets were bought each year. Better and worse years mixed in, with 2011 being the worst of the bunch. But the past two years were both better than the 2011 numbers. The industry certainly has some work to do in order to get the numbers back up to the 1.5 million from earlier in the decade. Fewer 3D films were released this year. Anyone that watched "Gravity" in IMAX 3D understands that there is only one way to view that film and it is not from home. Check out the box office results for "Gravity", very impressive for a non-sequel with no built-in audience.
Joe McMahon January 15, 2014 at 02:07 PM
Jason...those ticket sales are billions...not millions. So when you see a difference of 1.5 to 1.4....that would be a 100 million ticket difference.
Jason Decremer January 15, 2014 at 02:13 PM
Jon...I don't understand the left hand turn concerns that this one building is causing. How many businesses or roads on Main St. South do we now turn from with no traffic light support? Here are a few: Flood Bridge Road, Corrigan Motors, Laurel Diner, Carquest Auto Parts, Denmo's, Marie's Country Furnishings. I may have missed one or two. The point is, left hand turns onto Main St. South without the help of a traffic light directly overhead are made everyday in Southbury. It is nothing new and you have yet to provide any data to support the theatre would provide a greater public safety concern. Do you have the numbers for how many traffic accidents were reported on Main St. South resulting from left hand turns? Has there been an increase in those accidents over the past year, two years, five years, or fifteen years? Please provide the actual facts to support your conclusions.
Jason Decremer January 15, 2014 at 02:17 PM
Joe...Correct, Billions not millions my typing error.

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