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Breaking News: Columbia City Cinema to Close for Good Thursday

Columbia City Cinema owner Paul Doyle has just announced that the Rainier Valley’s only movie theater will close for good this Thursday night. From this evening’s email update:

Last week, while we thought we were still working with the city, city government closed the cinema by order of the mayor, the fire marshal and the building department.

They said we were not making sufficient progress toward installing fire sprinklers. That’s hard to understand or even believe, since we had dug ourselves out of the $80,000 hole the city put us in, gotten drawings, obtained permits, asked for bids, awarded the contract, and were a week or two away from beginning. Why is that not sufficient progress? We asked for a two-month extension and were denied.

The announcement comes after several years of financial insecurity for the cinema. Two years ago, the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund stepped in with a loan and assistance restructuring some of the cinema’s earlier debt. At the time, then RVCDF Executive Director Martina Guilfoil said that the spill-over that the cinema creates for other area businesses was a factor in the organization’s willingness to help.

“Having a first-run movie theater is vital to Columbia City and the Rainier Valley,” she said. “We applaud Paul’s effort to keep the theater operating and wanted the fund to be used to support this effort.”

But just one year later, the cinema was still smarting under the weight of substantial debt when Doyle appealed to the community for donations in an attempt to raise $20,000 to stay afloat.

“We don’t have money for the rent. We don’t have money to pay for film. We don’t have money for loan and lease payments,” he said.

Less than two weeks later, Doyle was perhaps more shocked than anyone to report that half the money had been raised and the cinema would ride again.

“Money has been pouring in just like that scene in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ when the Building and Loan gets saved,” he said. “So please keep it coming.”

But it was just a few months later, in November 2010, that Doyle announced a need for another $50,000 in donations to “make up back bills, taxes and rent by December 31 or the landlord will evict us and turn the cinema into a storage unit.”

He began selling stock in the cinema as a way to raise the money, but it wasn’t long before the Washington State Securities Division halted sales on the grounds that Doyle failed to provide potential purchasers of its stock with material information regarding the offering.

The saga of the cinema continued when the City of Seattle insisted that the historic building be brought up to code with the installation of a costly new fire sprinkler system, and Doyle said he couldn’t afford it. After two temporary-use permits and a very public and contentious battle, Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith said last week that he was done negotiating and – if the improvements weren’t made – the cinema would have to close.

“We have all heard about tragedies in large buildings that lacked adequate fire protection, and we cannot close our eyes to these important public safety concerns,” he said in an open letter to the community.

It seems Smith wasn’t bluffing.

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