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Dormont group tries to discourage sale of Hollywood Theater

Matthew Santoni
| Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, 5:00 p.m.
Pedestrians walk past the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, Friday, September 14, 2012.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Pedestrians walk past the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, Friday, September 14, 2012.

The nonprofit currently running Dormont's Hollywood Theater is trying to dissuade the Theatre Historical Society of America from purchasing the building, sending the society's board and members an "open letter" listing problems with the property and the proposed takeover.

Executive Director Richard Fosbrink announced this weekend that the Theatre Historical Society, which preserves information and artifacts about historic theaters at an archive at the Heinz History Center, has an agreement to buy the Potomac Avenue theater building from the landlord that had been renting it to Friends of the Hollywood since it reopened in 2011.

But Friends of the Hollywood, which has been fundraising for the building's upkeep, running its day-to-day programming and working to eventually buy the property, says the announcement by Fosbrink, a former board member with the group whom they rebuffed when he discussed the sale in early 2017, caught them by surprise when he announced he had an agreement in place with their landlord.

On Wednesday, the group sent a message to the society's board warning them that buying the building might pose a financial burden.

They claim the building has an aging, leaking roof; an old electrical system and plumbing; issues with flooding in the auditorium and dampness in the basement; and nonaccessible areas for people with mobility issues.

The letter also implied that Friends of the Hollywood wouldn't share the parts of the theater the group has purchased, including the seats, concession stand and new digital projector, adding to the cost of keeping it running without the group's support.

"We have been told on good authority that THS has agreed to purchase the theater for $375,000," the group wrote.

"Assuming that is the case, it is hard to see how this would represent a prudent fiscal decision: between a price that is significantly over appraisal, the aforementioned necessary capital improvements, the wishful capital improvements as stated by Mr. Fosbrink (such as a new marquee), and the infrastructure that would need to be purchased in order to make the theater operational ... the amount of money that would need to be invested in order to shape the theater in Mr. Fosbrink's vision is astronomical."

Fosbrink said he and the building's owners took an inspection tour Wednesday morning and agreed that the building had issues, but none that he believed would scuttle the sale or make it impossible to run.

"Clearly there are problems, but none of them are insurmountable," Fosbrink said. "The only question I have for them is: How are they going to deal with it?"

Although some board members and members of the organization own their own historic theaters, Fosbrink said the Hollywood would be the first the society owns and operates.

Friends of the Hollywood also took issue with Fosbrink's announced plans to host "second-run" or "intermediate-run" movies at the single-screen theater — films that have been out for weeks or months — claiming second-run theaters have proven unprofitable in the area and closed.

The group also argued that mainstream movies would take screen time away from showing the art house, cult and classic films that the Hollywood is known for.

"While there are many venues where THS can achieve its mission, there is only one venue suitable to achieve our mission," Friends of the Hollywood's letter said. "We implore you: please do not let Mr. Fosbrink finalize this sale. It serves neither the mission of THS, nor the community as a whole. He is not saving our theater; he is subjugating it."

Fosbrink reiterated that he wanted to work with Friends of the Hollywood, given its members' experience with running the Hollywood and making it what it has become.

But he said there were still opportunities to bring in larger audiences, pointing to the theater's current showings of the Winston Churchill film "Darkest Hour" as an example of the intermediate-run films he'd book.

"We would love to sit down and talk to members of the board to see if we can work together," he said. "The building's owners do not want to own the building anymore, and they don't think Friends of the Hollywood can buy it."

Friends of the Hollywood plans a "call to action" public board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the theater to seek support for keeping the Hollywood as it is.

Fosbrink said he would not be there, but would have a representative there to deliver a statement for the Theatre Historical Society.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6660, or via Twitter @msantoni.

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