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Local Editorials

OUR VIEW: Still time for amicable resolution to alley closure behind theater

THE ISSUE: Ottawa considers legal action against Roxy
OUR VIEW: Time to see some visible progress so city isn’t forced to draw hard line

The new Ottawa mayor and City Council have found themselves dealing with an old problem. The back alley behind Roxy Cinemas has been been blocked off for about a year, directly impacting businesses in the 800 blocks of both La Salle and Clinton Streets while also affecting traffic flow in the immediate downtown area.

The closure came about because Roxy owners Minor League Theaters need to remove the fly box, a remnant of the old live stage show days.

“We’ve found someone to do the teardown, but right now we have to relocate the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and electrical,” Roxy Cinemas spokesman Mark McSparin told The Times last week. He also acknowledged struggles in finding a contractor, explaining some who agreed to do the work later backed out at the last minute, and said nothing has fallen off the structure since the most recent round of tuckpointing work. That doesn’t mean the fence should come down, but it’s enough to show the theater owners aren’t just ignoring the situation.

McSparin made another valid point: the $200,000 price tag is steep for a small business that won’t see a return on that investment. Small-town, older-style movie theaters are already at a competitive disadvantage compared to newer cinemas with cushier seats and newer screens, sound systems and projectors.

That said, a functioning movie house can be a vital anchor for a downtown district, especially one with a burgeoning bar and restaurant scene. City leaders don’t want to be pushy, but the alley between West Jackson and West Jefferson streets is really important.

As such, it wasn’t surprising last week when the City Council authorized legal action against Minor League Theaters if that ultimately becomes necessary. The vote doesn’t actually change anything, but it does create one specific path for resolution.

Mayor Dan Aussem clearly thinks it’s time to see some action, and we understand his position. The company hasn’t rescheduled a meeting with city officials after weather ruined the last one, set before Aussem took office. But we also understand trying to keep everything amicable.

“We’re not dragging our feet,” McSparin said. “I really think we're close to getting things in order, but it's been a journey. … I think we’re on track. I’m sure it’s frustrating for people. It’s personally been frustrating for me.”

We hope that frustration doesn’t boil over, and acknowledge the extra media attention brings a renewed focus to a testy situation. While the council took what it considers a necessary step, the theater hasn’t stopped trying to meet its obligation as a corporate citizen, nailing down an HVAC contractor and starting electrical work.

The city, its business owners and residents need to know a resolution is on the horizon, and theater management now has offered a clearer timetable of demolition starting by Independence Day and having the alley reopened by the middle of July.

That alley can’t stay closed forever. We hope, for everyone’s sake, the theater owners are able to execute their plan as intended, and trust city leaders will do what’s best for everyone’s long-term interests.

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