Why a New Movie Theater?
Movie attendance has been falling since television made the scene in 1948. Edward Jay Epstein writes in “The Hollywood Economist“ that 67 percent of Americans went to the movies at least once a week in 1948. Today it’s less than 10 percent, and the core of that are mostly people under 21.
That doesn’t seem to be the case in Lexington Park, Maryland. For two decades the hue and cry has been for a “nice” movie theater, rife with rumor that the county commissioners won’t let a new movie theater in because one of them owns the current one.
Fact: No county commissioner in the past 30 years has owned a movie theater or blocked one from coming. I have known every last one of them. For the bulk of those 30 years I wrote about financial disclosure forms, how they spent taxpayers’ money and what kind of land deals were in the works. For the last six years I’ve been married to one.
Conjecture: I can’t think of one of them who would oppose a nice movie theater coming to the county.
At least twice in those decades county boards have tried to entice a movie theater into St. Mary’s County. The latest attempt was in the 1990s when the county held zoning approvals hostage, demanding First Colony include a movie theater in its development plans.
The developer finally convinced the officials that no one in the movie business could see a way to make enough of a profit in St. Mary’s County to justify investment in a new theater. He agreed to fund construction of a public pool next to Great Mills High School so the county would drop its movie theater demand.
(Why a pool? Before the BRAC win of 1990, the hue and cry was for a public pool. And that is another story for another time.)
In the early 1980s, there were four movie venues in the county: theaters in Lexington Park and Leonardtown; movies shown on base; and a drive-in theater on Route 235, somewhere in the vicinity of where Lowes-turned-BAE is located today.
By the time BRAC exploded the county population, all that remained outside the gate was today’s mini-multiplex in Lexington Park.
Now, here’s the county commissioner connection: The property where AMC Entertainment runs the Lexington Park movie theater is on the Millison Plaza property. Millison Plaza was once owned by a man who served as a county commissioner into the early 1980s. He died in 1998. He was a solitary legislator and left no political or good ole boy legacy. Speaking from 30 years of observation, listening and writing of such matters, if any legacy of his did remain, it would not lean toward his enrichment.
Meanwhile, AMC Loews Lexington Park 6 is owned by the second largest movie theater chain in the U.S., reports Yahoo Finance, with 350 theaters and 5,000 screens. It is owned by a group that includes investment firms. This is not Billy Bob Budweiser Buck-a-roo keeping the big-hogs with their nice rocking seats from bringing first run movies to town.
AMC Loews Lexington Park 6 is a tiny piece of a company which usually operates 14-screen-and-larger theaters and is a big player in a diminishing industry suffering decreasing profit margins. If we’ve got to worry about a movie theater, it might behoove us to worry about what it will mean to lose this one.
A new one won’t be coming in. A 360-degree marketing radius set at the hub of two rural peninsulas and a failing bridge is not going to draw investment for a stadium seating multiplex. Government can neither prevent nor make a theater build here.
Although it isn’t gum on the floor, there is a public issue with our only movie theater located in a part of town that frightens people. That is a very real public problem. And there is a very do-able advance toward its solution that does rest within local government’s power.
Across the street from the movie theater, the county commissioners can open the long overdue entrance to Nicolet Park.
In addition to a more appealing vista, the new intersection will enhance security all around the block where the movie theater is located. By connecting critical local roads police patrols can increase in the immediate vicinity and the area will become more accessible to pedestrian and local traffic. All of these things deter crime, including the improved vista.
Nicolet Park has new, small children playgrounds, including a water playground. There are ball fields and courts. The county skateboard park is located there.
A walk through one of the classiest and most accessible parks in town within an easy stroll of a half-dozen eateries could go a long way toward improving a night at the movies.