Since the Varsity turned into a revenue generator for the city against original predictions, there was little opposition at the meeting to the idea that downtown could be given another screen to draw people into the downtown business area at night.
Since the Varsity had it’s grand re-opening in April of 2006, it has had about 3,252 average monthly viewers. In it’s first nine months, the Varsity raked in roughly 50-60% of comparable Sacramento theaters. In the last seven months, it has been more along the lines of 70-80% of those numbers.
The tenants of the Varsity appeared during the council meeting to express their satisfaction at running the theater, and would like to continue to do so with the addition of a second screen. With another screen, it is predicted it will bring more people (about 56,500 annually) into downtown, as well as allowing more new independent films to release sooner in Davis.
Some have expressed concern about the cost of the project which is listed at $750,000. People wondered how the city could afford that money for a project like this. However, it is important to understand that this money did not come from the general fund. Instead it comes from the Redevelopment Agency.
There are separate types of monies that are available to municipal governments. Redevelopment money could not go to pay for Fire Fighters. In fact, Councilmember Lamar Heystek noted that absence of the Fire Department as evidence that this was not a general fund budget issue.
According to the city’s website, the City of Davis Redevelopment Agency’s purpose is the elimination of “blight” from the downtown Core, Olive Drive, and South Davis sub-areas. It does this through a variety of means but mainly the acquisition of property or partnerships with property owners in efforts to improve property.
One of the reasons the Varsity Theater was an alluring target for Redevelopment Money is that the city would recoup its expense in a variety of ways.
There are several different options as to the aesthetic nature of the possible renovations, in particular where the path to the second screen will be located. Councilman Don Saylor was not very warm to the idea of a tunnel leading to the second screen, expressly stating that it would be “plug-ugly” and that he hopes it is not the architectural choice for the renovations.
As far as the timeline, once details are worked out with the architect and then a plan for approval comes before the council in about 6 months, another 9 months or so of construction will be required.
Contrary to the reporting in the Davis Enterprise, the City Council for the most part was very pleased with the project. According to the Davis Enterprise,
“Some, however, had reservations.”
There were a few reservations sort of, but the vast majority of the meeting was very positive. And some of the items that were mentioned in the Enterprise were actually jokes, for instance,
“Councilman Lamar Heystek said he was disappointed the Varsity didn’t screen a Dutch film that he and his girlfriend — both of whom speak Dutch — were disappointed to miss.
“When you think about foreign films, think about the Netherlands and the dozens of Dutch people you could be reaching,” Heystek said.”
I do not understand why that was reported in the paper.
The council was actually very excited about this project.
Mayor Sue Greenwald said:
“It’s been a dream of mine to bring independent film to Davis since I first moved here 18 years ago…so for me this is the culmination of 2 decades of work, its been a spectacular success. Almost every other college town has an independent film theater, it was a major gap in our cultural offerings, and now we have one and its one of the nicest.”
Jon Fenske, one of the managers of the Varsity Theater, said a few words to the council.
“Receipts are up over 20% this year, and we expect to continue to grow next year, it usually takes a theater about three years to get established. The studios we deal with think our numbers are fantastic and winning the trust and the faith of the studios is a key component to this business… A second screen is much more than doubling our film offerings, which is a negligible increase in operating costs. There is also the timing effect, which is huge.”
The timing effect refers to the ability to show new arthouse films the weekend that they open. With only one screen, the Varsity sometimes shows a movie long after its release date due to commitments to other films. “You want to grab the film while its hot”, Fenske said.
I am happy that the Varsity will be getting a second screen. An art theater is always the one that has the best movies, and it is much more of a community landmark than the Regal theaters in downtown. I hope the council continues with this project and allows the Varsity to become the premier theater in Davis to see great movies.