Monday, November 28, 2011

Windsor's last downtown commercial cinema to close

The fact the Palace Cinemas (left) in downtown Windsor will be closing January 8 is a little depressing. I always had a warm place in my heart for this four-plex, despite its somewhat 1980s glitzy redesign. The theatre will close because the landlord, Mady Development Corp., will undertake extensive renovations to convert the site to the new offices for Windsor’s venerable daily, The Windsor Star. It’s all part of ongoing musical chairs downtown. The Star is leaving its almost century-old site a few blocks away on Ferry St. to make way for the University of Windsor, as the U relocates some of its departments downtown. This had long been in the works as part of a major effort to redevelop downtown. Windsor has been copying the model of smaller Ontario cities which have found it advantageous to have their universities move some of their facilities to the downtown core. This brings students to what had been rather desolate streets with the hopes of spinoffs for retail and other downtown businesses. Overall the plan makes sense. But it still tugs at the heartstrings. The Palace was the last remaining film theatre downtown. So the city, ironically, as it hopes to add more dimensions to the city core, will eliminate an earlier and, arguably, important one. Sure, the Capitol Theatre, also downtown, is headquarters for a couple of seasonal film festivals and hosts Windsor Intl. Film Festival monthly screenings. But it’s hardly a match for a commercial daily cineplex. I used to live within walking distance of downtown and often enjoyed a leisurely stroll to catch a movie at the Palace. Despite an almost three-decade old makeover (the theatre had otherwise long been in the same location) the property was in great shape. Make that “fantastic shape,” as general manager Gina Facca told WDF’s companion newspaper This was evident earlier this month when the Windsor Intl. Film Festival expanded its venues to the Palace, the first time the theatre had been used by the festival since 2008. I actually preferred this venue compared to the Capitol (and, yes, I love the historic Capitol!) because seats were better, the screening rooms smaller, the lobbies brighter. I hadn’t been in the place in a couple of years and, with a friendly staff and great concession stand, it looked as ready to host the public as ever. The thought crossed my mind: what if The Windsor Star does ink an agreement and move into the building? What a shame that would be! A week or so later the nail was in the coffin. The Windsor Star is delighting in its future digs, which will give the newspaper a main street presence which is supposed to allow more interaction with the community in the digital age. Fine and dandy. But it’s really a shame this building was the one that had to be chosen. Palace Cinemas' owner Imagine Cinemas of Windsor (which also owns the 10-plex Lakeshore Cinemas on the city’s east side), has no plans to open another theatre downtown. Ironically, Facca said, the Palace was just starting to see an uptick in business after being devastated by – another irony – construction a couple of years ago. That resulted in an attendance drop from 1800 to 800 a week. The construction was to create a better pedestrian climate to attract people to local businesses! Facca said the theatre was in the midst of negotiations with university groups to use the Palace to show films for fundraisers. It was another effort to spark new traffic. But it obviously wasn’t meant to be. So shed a tear or two for the Palace’s closing and the end of regular-scheduled movies downtown.

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