Town, County Strike Deal to Fund Chestertown Movie Theater Opening

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Kent County Commissioners Meeting, 2 April 2018: From left, Bryan Matthews and Mayor Chris Cerino ask Kent County Commissioners Ron Fithian, William Pickrum and Bill Short to lend $75,000 to the principals of Chesapeake Theaters, who plan to reopen the Chester 5 movies in Chestertown. County attorney Tom Yeager is in the background.

The Kent County Commissioners and the town of Chestertown have struck a deal that should result in the reopening of the town’s movie theater, hopefully by May 31st of this year.

At the county commissioners’ meeting, Tuesday, April 3, Mayor Chris Cerino and Bryan Matthews, representing the economic development committee of Main Street Chestertown, asked the commissioners to advance $75,000 to the Chesapeake Movies group, which is planning to refurbish the vacant theater for an opening Memorial Day weekend. The funds would come from the county’s revolving loan fund, which was created to facilitate economic development in the county. As an incentive to businesses and entrepreneurs, these county business loans have interest-rate below current market rate with terms of five to seven years. The town plans to repay the loan from proceeds of the entertainment tax, which the theater would pay after opening.

The Chester 5 theater closed in June 2017, leaving local residents with little option beyond driving to Middletown or Dover Del., Annapolis, or Easton for first-run movies. The long-time theater manager under the old management, Charlene Fowler, said that the newer theaters in Middletown and Dover had been drawing movie-goers away from Chestertown for several years, with tax-free shopping and dining opportunities as additional reasons for locals to make the thirty- to forty- minute drive. The condition of the local theater, which had not been renovated for many years, was also a factor.

Representatives of Chesapeake Movies were seen working in the theater, removing old seats, in September, and at the time they said they planned to open for the Christmas season, traditionally a busy time for theaters, with many Oscar contenders being released at that time. However, an anticipated deal with Silicato Development, the owners of the shopping center, fell through, and for a while it appeared the theater would not reopen.

But negotiations warmed up again in February, and the principals of the theater company appeared at the March 19 Chestertown Council meeting to request the town’s help in closing the deal. Mike Klein, Ira Miller, and Bob Weinholdt told the council they were near to a deal with Silicato. They said they were prepared to invest $500,000 in the renovation, and Silicato had offered to provide another $270,000, much of which would go toward the purchase of state-of-the-art projection and sound equipment for the theaters. To close the deal, they asked the town to advance them $75,000 on anticipated entertainment tax revenue to close the deal. The town would make the advance back from proceeds of the entertainment tax, which they said could be as much as $20,000 in a good year. The theater would be completely renovated, with upgraded seats, an expanded concession area, new restrooms, and a program of first-run films along with some indie films. “It’ll be unlike anything Chestertown has ever seen,” said Weinholdt.

Chestertown council members were enthusiastic about the prospect of the theater reopening, but as Cerino noted, the requested advance would amount to nearly 10 percent of the town’s cash on hand. Guarantees would need to be in place in the event of the theater going out of business before the advance was repaid. After discussion at the Mar. 19 meeting, the council authorized Town Manager Bill Ingersoll to carry on negotiations with the theater group to find a way to help them bridge the monetary gap and reopen the theater.

Then at the April 2 Chestertown Council meeting this past Monday, Ingersoll said the town had settled on a plan to sponsor a request for the Kent County Commissioners to make up the advance from Kent County’s revolving loan plan. He said that Cerino and Matthews were on the agenda of the next County Commissioners’ meeting scheduled for the next day. Ingersoll credited Kay MacIntosh and Jamie Williams, economic development coordinators for the town and county respectively, for helping to facilitate the plan.

Then at the Kent County Commissioners’ meeting last night,  Tuesday, April 3, Mayor Cerino succinctly outlined the proposal for the theater reopening and for funding it from the county loan program, with the town forwarding the entertainment tax proceeds on a quarterly basis to repay the loan.

Matthews gave an overview of the economic benefits of keeping theater-goers in Kent County instead of Delaware, spending their money in stores and restaurants in addition to the movies. He noted that the theater would employ 12 to 15 people, which he calculated as an annual influx of some $300,000 into the county’s economy.

Commissioners Bill Short and Ron Fithian were enthusiastic about the possibility of the theater’s reopening. Commission President William Pickrum, on the other hand, hit a note of caution about the use of taxpayer money to finance a private business. He said the plan to repay the county from entertainment tax revenues was dependent on the theater staying in business long enough to realize that level of income.

Cerino said the town would be willing to commit to a memorandum of understanding or some equivalent mechanism to guarantee the loan. He said he realized the $75,000 being asked for exceeded the $50,000 cap for the revolving loan fund, but he noted that the theater was a business that would benefit both the town and the county as a whole, describing it as “a win-win.”

The commissioners voted unanimously to grant the loan. While the final details need to be settled, the theater appears to be on track for its Memorial Day opening. Get your tickets now!

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Letters to Editor

  1. timothy fowler says:

    good luck!

  2. Carla Massoni says:

    A shout out to Kay MacIntosh for keeping the ball in play on this one. When I thanked her, she immediately acknowledged the efforts of Jamie Williams. A big thank you to our Chris Cerino, our Town Council, our County Commissioners and and Bryan Matthews from Main Street.

  3. J.M. Kramer says:

    Congratulations to the County Commissioners, and the Chestertown mayor and council for making this work. We regularly use Westown Cinema in Middletown and, yes, we do take advantage of shopping tax free while there. But I will sure be glad to have an movie-going option that does not require using nearly 3 gals of gasoline and spending nearly 2 hours in the car.

  4. garret falcone says:

    Congrats again to Kay , Jamie, Our Mayor ,the Council and Commissioners !
    This is great news!!

    I know many or out residents at Heron Point love having local Movie theater …and you did it!!
    Thank you!!
    Garret Falcone

  5. Edward Maxcy says:

    I may have missed this detail, but I sincerely hope the town will collect some interest on the loan and have a guarantee in case of default.

  6. Judith Hughes says:

    Thank you, Kent County and Chestertown!
    Well done! Am pleased to be spending my entertainment money in Chestertown.

  7. Robin Burroughs says:

    I am thrilled with the decision and will absolutely go to the movies every week in support. Especially delighted that India movies will be included. This will be a great thing for the town and county. Thanks to all who kept it alive!!!

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