Chris Brown is passionate about bringing an eight-screen movie theater to Northfield, similar to the one he bought in Red Wing four years ago.
Northfield City Councilor Rhonda Pownell says that having a movie theater in Northfield has been identified over and over as a missing piece of the community since Southgate Cinema, originally built in 1982, closed its doors for good in August 2008.
Both talked about a proposed movie theater project Thursday morning during the Economic Development Authority meeting, where Brown, Brown’s father Paul (via conference call) and Dan Plein, CFO for Red Wing Mall (where Red Wing Cinema 8 resides), asked the EDA to consider an incentive package to help bring the theater to town.
“Without assistance from the city of Northfield and possibly Rice County, we won’t be able to bring a theater to Northfield that it deserves,” Paul Brown said. “If we can’t, we have a couple of other communities we are looking at. We feel Northfield is a good fit, though.”
Standing in the way of making the project a reality in Northfield is a rather large gap in funding. Brown and his company, CABB, LLC, first approached the city of Northfield with a request for a $300,000 grant payable over 10 years, after payment of property taxes and only if the business remains open. In addition, a request was also made for a revolving loan of $250,000.
Those needs increased recently when the project grew from a 22,000-square-foot proposed theater to 26,000 square feet and the construction costs increased $325,000, making it a $3.8 million project.
Plein said that based on the increased size of the theater and the projected Rice County taxes, which are projected to be nearly $100,000 a year, CABB, LLC is looking at a funding shortfall.
“If we’re going to make this a reality, we’re going to have to come up with creative ways to close the gaps,” he said. “Taxes here are unbelievably high.”
After the presentation, members of the EDA discussed the next steps, taking into account the increased scope of the project. Before a motion was made to move the discussion to the next level, EDA members not only had questions, but also reservations on whether an eight-screen movie theater was even sustainable in Northfield.
“I’m skeptical that there would be enough traffic for a theater [of this size] to be successful here,” EDA member Fred Rogers said. “Have you looked at other college towns for comparison sake?”
To that, Chris Brown replied that the college student population really wasn’t factored in and that he is comparing Northfield and Red Wing in terms of the community.
“We really aren’t aiming this to the college kids,” he said. “The demographics we’re looking at are seniors, families and kids. That’s why we are going for the eight screens, which means we’ll be able to bring in first-run movies.”
After listening to Rice County officials take TIF money off the table and exploring the possibility of abatements and before making a motion for city staff and a newly-formed EDA subcommittee to move forward, Pownell said that she would like to see the data that would show that the project could be successful.
After more discussion, all on the EDA agreed.
“It is premature to talk about this because there are new numbers,” said City Councilor and EDA member David Ludescher. “I would want to see the new numbers before we move on.”
Currently, the Northfield EDA does not have a loan program to fit the request of CABB, LLC. The EDA would need to consider an alternative to the approved loan program in order to meet the incentive request.
Furthermore, city staff has not received an application or full project performa at this time as CABB, LLC preferred to gauge the interest of the EDA in offering a non-traditional incentive package. With the vote to move to the next step, the company has agreed to provide the requested information for staff to review and then again be discussed at the May meeting.
Plein remained hopeful that the city of Northfield and Rice County will be able to come up with an incentive package that would meet the needs of all.
“The new numbers are definitely a factor and we’ll try to narrow the gap,” he said. “We’re not going to throw in the towel. We’re still interested in Northfield, but the numbers have to work. We’re going to give it our best shot.”
Reach Managing Editor Jerry Smith at 645-1136, or follow him on Twitter.com @NewsNorthfield