Pedestrians walk across the street in front of the Pearl West building at the intersection of Pearl and 11th streets. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)
I respectfully disagree with the opinion piece by Sean Maher in the Business Section of the Daily Camera that the proposed cinema in the Pearl West building is a “Win/Win for Boulder.”
It’s not even simply a “Win.”
And I urge the City Council to reject the proposal, which would tax Boulder taxpayers to the tune of $2 million to match funds raised by the Downtown Boulder Foundation, of which Mr. Maher is CEO, to build a cinema that the developers promised in 2014 to include in the project as a community benefit. A cinema that we do not need.
Mr. Maher’s article raises a number of issues.
First off, he says that a Pearl West cinema was a key selling point when the Pearl West project was approved. I believe that is correct. But — and I stand to be corrected on this — I do not believe that in selling the project in 2014 the developers informed the public that they would be coming back to the trough in 2017 for tax money. Unless Boulder taxpayers committed in 2014 to fund this cinema in 2017, we are perfectly free today to evaluate this new proposal on its own merits, or lack thereof.
Leaving aside whether we need this new cinema (see below), Mr. Maher says that building and operating new cinemas “virtually always require[s] subsidies.” However, the Boedecker Theater at Dairy Arts Center, where I’m a member of the Film Selection Committee (I’m writing here only on my own behalf) — was built entirely with private funds and without taxpayers having to come up with one dime out of pocket (although, of course, the “Boe” is situated on premises leased from the city at a negligible rental by Dairy Arts Center, of which the Boe is a part, but out-of-pocket taxpayer dollars? Zero). If you build it, use the money and benefits that Pearl West cinema is projected to generate to fund the cinema; as with the Boe, go find a private donor or investor; or a combination of the above. Do something, anything, other than ask taxpayers to pony up for this expensive project.
Next, Mr. Maher says Boulder needs this new cinema — that our community is “underserved” by our number of movie screens. I disagree. However many screens there are in Austin, anyone familiar with the film scene here in Boulder is well aware of all the empty seats that stare at the screens that we already have. Mr. Maher calls the proposed Pearl West project an “art cinema” and a “cultural asset.” Mr. Maher is CEO of an enterprise seeking to raise our taxes for his cinema and would quite naturally like us to kick in to pay for it. Well, besides the fact that we already have two very fine arts cinemas (the Boe and the International Film Series), I’m not at all sure that a Pearl West cinema would turn out to be such. Mr. Maher notwithstanding, a prominent supporter of the Pearl West proposal has told me that the types of movies that the downtown cinema will show are more akin to those shown at Century Theatres at the Twenty Ninth Street mall than the Boe, which is to say commercial cinema. Nothing wrong with that. But … and this brings me to my main point.
What is wrong, very wrong in my view, is to ask taxpayers to pay for this proposed cinema. If anyone thinks it might be nice, as opposed to necessary, to build a cinema at Pearl West, fine and dandy. And I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. But as above, go find some way to pay for it without hitting up taxpayers. Simply put: it’s not a proper function of government to provide movies to the people. And certainly not commercial movies. We need better schools, roads and much else before using our limited resources to provide yet another screen upon which to project yet another “Spider Man” movie. And if the City Council should nonetheless decide to move forward with this proposal and submit it to a referendum, at a bare minimum voters should be given the opportunity to vote it up or down as a separate measure, not bundled together with more deserving proposals. If you agree, email the City Council at council@bouldercolorado .gov. Simply tell them that you oppose the “$2 Million Pearl West Movie Tax,” and that you believe our tax dollars are better spent on other things.
Albert Hand lives in Boulder. While he is a member of the Film Selection Committee of The Boedecker Theater at Dairy Arts Center, the views expressed here are his own and do not reflect any position of The Boedecker Theater or Dairy Arts Center.