The Tower theater, one of Salt Lake's last dollar movie houses, has been closed for more than a month now and its reopening as a cheap third-run theater appears doubtful.The 62-year-old movie house, located at 9th south and 9th East, shut its doors April 25 and is for sale or lease by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which took ownership of the property last year in assuming the sour assets of a failed local bank.
"We've had a tremendous number of calls and I feel some are serious about it," said Dan Masucci, a liquidation assistant with the FDIC.
Although interested buyers and lessors have indicated they would maintain the building as a movie theatre, it's unlikely the new operator could survive by only charging $1 or $2 per customer.
The glut of movie screens in Salt Lake Valley and the film industry's treatment of dollar houses forced the theater's most recent operator to give up last month. "I'd had enough and I was tired of taking it in the shorts," said a frustrated Dennis Lyman, who worked at The Tower for 15 years and leased it for six.
He explained that overhead expenses of rent, utilities, advertising and the 3 percent royalty to the filmmaker had been outstripping revenues for months. And after glancing at a list of upcoming films, Lyman tossed in the towel the night of April 25.
"I didn't know I was going to close it until 15 minutes before I did it. I saw the bookings of what was coming up and decided I wasn't going to take it anymore."
By the time Lyman could get a film, it would be available on video, taking away much of his bargain-hunting clientele. But the filmmakers' timing in releasing videos and third-run films is only part of the problem for Lyman and other dollar-house owners.
Salt Lake Valley has 107 movie screens, many in multiple screen complexes, which means a movie gets run to death and loses its appeal by the time it reaches the dollar house.
"We're getting eaten alive by the multiple screen complexes," said Dale Christensen, co-owner of the Arcade, another of the city's dwindling $1 admission theatres. "With so many of them here the dollar house gets films later and later."
Christensen despises theater complexes compared to the quaint one-screen buildings. But Lyman admits a multiple-screen operation is about the only way to make a living in the local movie theatre business.
Neither operator made money with his dollar house. But unlike Lyman, Christensen has another source of income and the Arcade is merely a hobby.
"I am looking for work right now," Lyman said.
Despite the odds, Lyman believes he could have made it work if the rent being charged by the FDIC wasn't so high - $2,500 a month. "They thought a single screen theatre should be getting so much more."
Lyman also said the FDIC's asking price of about $130,000 is inflated. "I wouldn't give them $75,000 at the most with all the work that needs to be done."
He noted the ceiling, balcony, chairs, bathrooms and lighting all need replacing, remodeling or repairs.
But Masucci said the price includes equipment and new screen, and that although the facility does need work, "it's almost a turn-key operation.
"We think it is priced fairly and competitively for that market. But as in most real estate deals the seller thinks it is priced fairly and the buyer thinks it is overpriced. That's always the situation."