Operator of Art Theater Moves Ahead with Co-Op Concept
The operator of Champaign-Urbana's only movie theater specializing in art and foreign films says he's gotten a positive response from his proposal to convert the business into a co-op.
Sanford Hess hosted a public meeting about his plans at the Art Theater in downtown Champaign on Aug. 14. He said the 40 people attending were receptive to the co-op concept --- largely due to its successful use by the Common Ground Food Co-op in Urbana.
"So people have latched on," Hess said. "Many people were very nervous that I was going to stand up there and say, 'OK I'm leaving and the Art's going to shut down.' And I think that people, sort of in a sigh of relief, are lining up to support the cooperative, because I think they understand that this is the best-case scenario for having the Art continue to be in business.
Hess said that with guidance from Common Ground board chairman Ben Galewsky, he hopes to form a board of directors to oversee the conversion of the Art Theater to a co-op. He said he believes raising money from co-op members is the best way to ensure the Art's long-term survival --- plus the short-term expense of industry-mandated digital projection upgrades costing at least $70,000.
"Like in the next couple of months, some specific decisions need to be made," Hess said. "The whole point of the cooperative is that it would not necessarily be me, Sanford Hess, making these decisions. It would be the cooperative making these decisions. So we need to form it as an entity, have a board appointed, so we can start actually locking stuff down and making plans."
The Art Theater opened in downtown Champaign as the Park Theater in 1913. In 1958, it became the Art Theater, specializing in foreign and art films. It's continued that policy since then, except for a period in the 1970s and '80s when it ran X-rated movies. Hess says he's committed to operating the theater at least through 2012, when his lease expires.