The Brookville Theater
(Brookville, Ind.) - The 75-year-old Brookville Theater - long a hangout for kids and families in the Franklin County seat - could soon close unless help comes, perhaps from the City of Lawrenceburg.
In an age of stadium seating, digital surround sound audio, and online ticket purchases, the small one-screen theatre has managed to survive without any major changes since it opened in 1938. However, the motion picture industry will go completely digital by Fall 2013, rendering the old-style reel-to-reel film projection theatre incapable of showing first run movies each weekend.
Brookville Main Street, Inc. President Allen Beneker has written a letter to area media detailing the historic movie theater's plight.
"The cost to convert is staggering and many theaters in small towns are closing or plan to close when reel-to-reel films are no more," Beneker says.
The cost of just one digital projector ranges as high as $75,000. Recent news reports across the country show that Brookville Theater, owned by Rick Bender, is not the only small theater facing such a dilemma.
Helped seemed to be coming when Lawrenceburg City Council approved a 10-County Regional Grant of $600,000 to Destination Brookville LLC in January. Destination Brookville had a blueprint for a revitalization of downtown Brookville, making the community an overnight destination for the thousands of visitors to Brookville Lake each summer. The organization's plans included equipment upgrades and converting the Brookville Theatre into a multiplex.
In February, Lawrenceburg City Council voted to repeal the grant approval to Destination Brookville after council members learned of State Representative Jud McMillin's former involvement with Destination Brookville. McMillin, a Brookville resident, is a member of the Lawrenceburg Grant Committee. Although McMillin abstained from voting on the Destination Brookville grant request, city councilman Mike Lawrence said McMillin did not fully disclose his ties to Destination Brookville.
Beneker is a former business partner of Rep. McMillin and co-owner of Destination Brookville LLC along with Jenny Wilz and Jud McMillin's mother, Sharon McMillin. It was those relations that concerned a majority of city council.
The theater's fate may rest with that of the Lawrenceburg grant. Rep. McMillin said he plans to address Lawrenceburg City Council on the issue Monday, March 4.
"Reel-to-reel movies at the Brookville Theatre have allowed parents the comfort of dropping the kids off at the theater for the 7:00 show in a safe community where after the show they can walk to Pizza Pete or McDonald’s and be picked up by Mom or Dad, and still be home by 11:00," writes Beneker.
Below is the full letter submitted by Allen Beneker, President of Brookville Main Street, Inc.:
The Brookville Theatre has provided Brookville, Franklin County and the surrounding countryside with wholesome, first-run family entertainment since opening in 1938 as the Morin Theatre. Since the grand opening film with the Marx Brothers , A Day at the Races, showings of Gone with the Wind, Ben Hur, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sound of Music, Rocky, the original Star Wars Trilogy and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln have enriched our culture and allowed our children’s imaginations to soar.
The Brookville Theatre’s nostalgic marquee provides a tie to our past—a past of family trips to town on Saturday nights for ice cream at Maggie Wright’s and a family movie, or a family dinner at Pizza Pete, the Dairy Cottage, or the Pioneer, and, yes, a family movie. Reel-to-reel movies at the Brookville Theatre have allowed parents the comfort of dropping the kids off at the theater for the 7:00 show in a safe community where after the show they can walk to Pizza Pete or McDonald’s and be picked up by Mom or Dad, and still be home by 11:00 after spending free time with their friends.
As large cinema complexes have become popular, and the availability of transportation has mushroomed, small local theaters like ours have felt the pinch. While the Brookville Theatre, owned and operated by Rick Bender since 1988 continues to offer first-run movies on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, its continued operation faces a very real threat.
In the next few months the motion picture industry will go digital. The reel-to-reel projection equipment used by the Brookville Theatre and by most small theaters throughout the country will be obsolete. No new films will be available to theater owners who do not convert to digital equipment. The cost to convert is staggering and many theaters in small towns are closing or plan to close when reel-to-reel films are no more.
Rick Bender hopes to be able to continue to own and operate the Brookville Theatre in the digital age. “I believe this theater is an important part of our town, of our community. It is an asset that provides us with an identity and allows us to together share enriching and stimulating ideas and entertainment. I hope to be able to continue to provide our families, our children, and visitors to our community with a first-run movie experience.”
“Partnering with Destination Brookville in working to use grant funds provided by the City of Lawrenceburg, would go a long way in meeting the high cost required to convert the theatre to a state-of-the-art digital theater. If this opportunity had not presented itself, I would have had no alternative other than to close the theater as we’ve known it. The grant funds would be put to work to keep the theater viable and running first-run movies to serve the community. If this option does not come about, the theatre will be closed in the near term,” Bender said.
Movies at the Brookville Theatre since 1988 have been shown for admission fees of $4 for all moviegoers. That’s been quite a bargain when the same movies at the megaplexes show at $10 or more per ticket. Rick Bender is one of many Main Street business people with their hearts in our community. It is that heart that makes this area a home we can all cherish. Supporting each other’s businesses and efforts will keep our community strong.