Lifestyle, News, Politics

Columbia City Cinema at Stand-Off With City Over Sprinklers; Both Sides Speak Here

The on-going saga of the City of Seattle vs. Columbia City Cinema (RVP sponsor) has reached somewhat of a stalemate with the City insisting that the historic building housing the cinema be brought up to code with a new sprinkler system, and Cinema owner Paul Doyle desperate for an extension so he can raise the $100,000 he says is necessary to do so.

This morning, the Rainier Valley Post received a request from the Mayor’s office to publish the following update to the community from Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith (Paul Doyle’s response follows below):

Several years ago I was approached by Paul Doyle, who was seeking help to establish a small first run movie theater in my neighborhood. I had been very active in helping Columbia City reestablish itself, so naturally I thought it would be great to have movies close to home. (Full disclosure: my wife and I helped to find investors, and a few are personal friends.)

The Cinema has been a real favorite in the South End, and it has survived despite the lousy economy. About a year ago, I learned that the cinema had grown from a one screen operation into a three screen operation without obtaining the proper permits or making the required updates for public safety as required by the Seattle Fire and Building Codes. As with any business, a change in use of all or a portion of a building may trigger additional safety requirements depending on the extent and nature of the change. In this case, when the Cinema increased their capacity and expanded to three screens, they were required by the fire code to install sprinklers. But this vital safety improvement was never done.

The City’s Department of Planning and Development, as well as the Seattle Fire Department, set up a plan that the owner/operator could follow to keep the Cinema open. We granted the Cinema two temporary use permits, and worked with Paul Doyle to allow the Cinema to stay open as a three screen movie house while he worked on getting the necessary permits to bring the cinema up to code. Unfortunately, he did not follow up with the City to get those permits.

Some have asked why an old building in a historic neighborhood cannot just be exempted from public safety and code requirements. The building, an old Masonic hall, is a contributing historic structure in the Columbia City Landmark District; however, that designation does not exempt the building from public safety requirements and does not prohibit the alteration of the interior to install sprinklers. 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.

I want the Columbia City Cinema to remain a vital part of our great neighborhood, and so does the City. We have worked with owner Paul Doyle to try to achieve that goal. We all share our concern for public safety and the love of movies shown close to home, and hope that he will work with us to bring the cinema up to code.

Response from Paul Doyle:

It’s unfortunate the city is attempting to absolve itself from responsibility or leadership in the matter of the Cinema, by attempting to discredit me. The [above] letter blindsided me and went out to the public while I thought I was in negotiation with the City for an extension for enough time to finance the sprinklers. The letter is the usual unthinking, self-serving city response and contains several inaccuracies.

First of all, contrary to what the letter says, I have been working with  the city and have been waiting nearly a month now for a response to my question of where it says the city can totally disregard the section of the code that says in an historic building the mandated fire protection provisions SHALL NOT BE REQUIRED.

Assuming the failure of that reasonable approach, I am also waiting for an answer to the request for enough time to finance the sprinklers.

Contrary to what the letter says, the building is up to code and all  permits have been applied for and approved. The cinema cannot get a permanant occupancy permit however until the fire sprinklers are installed.

It is true we’ve been given two temporary occupancy permits, one for six months and one for 30 days. It was impossible to make much progress toward the sprinklers during that time because four of those months the City had the upstairs entirely closed, costing us to date about $80,000, and we had our hands full just staying open.

Furthermore, the City did not even review and approve our plans until five months into the extension. The fire department has said on at least two occasions, that the problem isn’t an issue of safety, that it’s simply an issue of what the code says we must do and they are going to make us  install sprinklers because they can.

Our response is “Fine, we’ll install sprinklers, but since you nearly put us out of business by your arbitrary, unprecedented and unecessary closure, you could at least give us enough time to raise the money, especially since you’re the reason we don’t have it. The City conveniently overlooks the facts of the case in favor of business as usual.

That said, we are happy to continue working with the city to install the sprinklers they want so badly, but continue to ask for enough time to raise the approximately $100,000 they cost.

It is a failure of leadership when the city forces a worthwhile institution out of business. They could easily grant us an extension and defuse the whole thing.

What do you think? Should Columbia City Cinema be granted an extension so it can raise the funds required for a new sprinkler system?


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34 Comments on "Columbia City Cinema at Stand-Off With City Over Sprinklers; Both Sides Speak Here"

4 years 6 months ago

So, now what? Is the cinema really gone?
I never cared for Paul’s whining; did like his humor; absolutely loved having the Cinema; think the city should have given him the extension through the summer that he was talking about.
I don’t forget — can still feel — what that whole section of C City was like all those years before the Cinema: derelict, stagnant, boring. With the Cinema it came alive. Wish someone would have a similar creative and beneficial instinct for that now vacant plaza across the street. (NO, we don’t need a six story ugly travesty like the ones north of us on Rainier. How about skating rinks, one indoor one outdoor, with a nice big fountain, sculptures, and a memorable set of pergolas outside creating an open, but covered from the rain, walking/gathering/performance space — wouldn’t that give us a fantastic heart of C City center of gravity and civic life… a real plaza!)
Anyway, that big old Masonic building I used to wonder about for years got made into something that brought life, warmth, color, and transformation to that section of the neighborhood. Good on Mr. Doyle for having had the very bright idea and the nerve to try it out.
Now to the Powers That Be: Forget that the guy gets on your nerves. You know you can help, so keep helping already. No stopping, no choking, no blocking. This is for the neighborhood. Give him the extension. Just do it.
That is, if it’s not too late already. If it is, how all around stupid.

4 years 7 months ago

“@MarkB, Thanks. It’s kinda a big deal, although I realize that a family with two mommies in south Seattle isn’t unique after all.

BTW, sometimes I get the impression that I can see your house from my house. ”

Wierd, you didn’t strike me as a stalker. J/K
Actually I live in the Lakewood / Seward Park area but I work right near you.
There are lots of same sex couples with children pretty much everywhere (except Iran)

Again, Congratulations

4 years 7 months ago

@MarkB, Thanks. It’s kinda a big deal, although I realize that a family with two mommies in south Seattle isn’t unique after all.

BTW, sometimes I get the impression that I can see your house from my house. It may be some sort of Palin Syndrome.

4 years 7 months ago

Congratulations on your new arrival

4 years 7 months ago

“Too many laws. Too much government intrusion. We don’t need a nanny government to protect us from every little thing because we are thinking human beings who can take care of themselves.”

Balance, Do you mean, “ourselves” or do you not think that you are a member of those “thinking human beings” you are referring to. I, for one, do not trust mankind to always make the right decision. Deregulation of businesses has put us in a whole lotta trouble. And history has shown that leaving the public’s safety to businesses without standards and laws can have horrendous consequences.

As much as I love having the theater in Columbia City (can’t wait to bring our new arrival to the Tuesday afternoon Cry Baby Cinema!), it doesn’t appear to be run well. Period. I’d rather our public funds be spent on education than subsidize our community’s cinema house.

4 years 7 months ago

I understand that a lot of people want to see a “real business-person(s)” take over in Mr. Doyle’s place. I have often thought myself that in the game of Darwinian economics, Mr. Doyle is a dodo bird.

All that said as far as I can tell watching him flounder, there is not a line of “real business people” chomping at the bit to have their chance at this business. I’m pretty sure if he received a serious purchase offer he’d probably consider it. That’s because “real business people” do their research, write business plans and calculate business worthiness…and typically their income models do not include handouts from well intentioned neighbors.

Not to take a swipe at him for that. Many a person has done some good and had success with a “labor or love” born out of nothing more than some elbow grease, inventiveness and a dream. sniff** Ya, nice moment over. That ain’t happenin’ here.

To tell you the truth, the most profitable “real” business model for this location would probably be something in the category of vice: gambling, strip club, gun shop etc. Given that these are not probably permissible there, the next most likely sign to go up is: VACANT.

Does Mr. Doyle “deserve” special treatment any more than any other CC business person who’s livelihood and dreams have been lost in this economy? No. But perhaps the community and the institution, do. The NP idea is a good one, but he is unlikely to have the wherewithal to pull that together at this point.

I think the City should show Mr. Doyle the “leadership” he so desperately needs and has asked for. They need to present a non-profit plan, take it or leave it. If Mr. Doyle is not interested, let him turn it over to someone who will run it as such. Enough of this. What will he do next? Sell shares of air?! Farts for a buck. (DOH- but he’ll forget to calculate the cost of the beans!!!) I realize that some City attorney will have to spend time ($) to construct this for him, but hell…that time and $ will be squandered quickly enough in this silly back and forth.

4 years 7 months ago


I totally agree with everything you said. There are way too many abandoned buildings and not enough choices for residents.

On the other hand, as much as I want to have local business, they need to keep up their end of the bargain. Get your business in order. Before he opened doors he should have made sure everything was up to code and ready to go. If the sprinklers decide whether or not your business stays open then the sprinklers need to be the first thing installed.

I can understand times are tough and everyone is trying to eat but let’s keep it 100, Mr. Doyle needs to stop pointing the finger.

Findlay Street
4 years 7 months ago

The Theater is a gem, I love it, my kids love it and we would all hate to lose it. I admire the owner for taking the risks to make this neighborhood resource a reality. I hope Paul is able to do what it takes to keep the place going, in the meantime I will show my support by enjoying as many films as I can at the theater. Good luck Paul, we are rooting for you!