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May 4, 2011 at 11:22 AM

Columbia City Cinema to close

Looks like the lights are going down at Columbia City Cinema for good this week. Paul Doyle, owner of the independent cinema (one of Seattle’s few, and the only one in the city’s south end), sent an email last night saying that the cinema is being closed by city government, by order of the mayor, the fire marshall, and the building department. This is due to long-standing issues over the historic building’s fire safety, which Doyle said the cinema was addressing. The cinema’s website has not yet been updated with last night’s announcement (which went out to everyone on Columbia City Cinema’s email list), so I’m putting an excerpt here:

They [city officials] 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. Left with no options, we sent the following email to city officials:
You have finally forced us out of business, which seems to have been your intent from the beginning. First you declared war on us, then you crippled us, then you killed us. We will not attempt to reopen. The option you give us will not allow us to survive. You say you closed us for lack of substantial progress. But it is hard to understand why getting the plans, getting the permits, calling for bids and awarding the contract with the promise of completion within two months is not substantial progress. You can robotically quote chapter and verse of the building code bible as much as you like, but what the code actually states is that in an historic building the fire protection provisions SHALL NOT BE REQUIRED. That may not exempt the cinema from sprinklers, as the city claims, and we agreed to do the sprinklers, but it is certainly a reasonable basis for giving the cinema two months to comply without closing, especially when we are, according to Diane Sugimura, supposed to be “proactively working together”. I’ve discovered the city doesn’t work with anyone. It tells them what to do. There has been very little “how can we help?” and a whole lot of “how difficult can we make this?”
The closure will:
Force the cinema into bankruptcy
Create another vacant building
Put 12 people out of work
Cost the city $90,000 in tax, loan and sprinkler hookup revenue
Devastate the economic life of a business community that depends on the cinema for traffic
Cause the loss of over $200,000 for Columbia City investors and supporters
Anger and disappoint thousands of families, schools, churches, day cares, youth groups and
businesses that depend on the cinema
Whatever you think, the saner part of the city will view this as epic stupidity and unfairness. You should all be ashamed of yourselves for your smallness, lack of vision and the damage you have done. It is city dysfunction at its worst and a major betrayal of the Columbia City community.
The cinema was a beautiful thing. It became the symbol and pride and center of a neighborhood. You should have treasured it, and done everything you could to preserve it. Instead you destroyed it

Doyle’s email, too long to include in its entirety (it also includes a lengthy timeline of the cinema’s struggles with the city), suggested that concerned friends of Columbia City Cinema might email the following addresses:

Doyle writes that the cinema will stay open until tomorrow night, unless the city closes it down earlier. The Times newsroom is currently working on a more detailed story, but this is what I know now.
Update (3 p.m.): The cinema’s website has now been updated; you can read Doyle’s entire missive here.
Update (4:30 p.m.): The city’s Department of Planning and Development has sent a response; read it here.



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