New life for Sutter Theatre?
Shuttered last week for numerous code violations, the aged Sutter Theatre in Yuba City could find new life in 2007 - courtesy of a man who revived a similarly distressed movie house in Colusa.
Owners of both the Sutter and Colusa theaters confirmed Thursday they are discussing a plan for Michael Wilkinson, who has owned the Colusa Theatre for a decade, to take over operation of the 55-year-old Sutter Theatre.
Wilkinson and Russ Clark, who co-owns the Sutter with John Tuscano, called the talks preliminary and said there are other candidates to run the three-screen complex.
Wilkinson is thinking ahead toward possibly salvaging another movie house the way he revamped the 75-year-old Colusa Theatre, which closed more than a year before he took it over in 1996 and renovated it.
“I see similar potential in the Sutter Theatre that I saw in the Colusa,” he said. “I think the theater could be restored in such a way that it does retain and bring back some of the theater's original character.”
The current operator, Santa Rosa-based Theatrical Promotions Inc., holds the lease through June 17.
But with the Sutter's owners openly weighing a management change, the pressure increases on Theatrical Promotions to quickly correct the health and safety violations that led the Yuba City Building Department to close the cinema on Dec. 14. Inspectors discovered exposed electrical wires, buckled ceilings, cockroach infestations and rat poison being stored next to candy.
No reopening date has been announced. Calls to Daniel F. Tocchini, Theatrical Promotions' chief executive, were not returned.
Although the Sutter has continued to draw viewers with first-run movies, filmgoers have complained of the theater's increasingly dirty, threadbare condition in the 18 months since Theatrical Promotions sold it to Clark and Tuscano.
“I know my wife won't go in there for a movie,” said Clark. “They don't even fix the sign that says ‘SUTTER,' and I've been trying to tell them, ‘Hey, guys - why don't you fix the sign, make it look like it's open?'
“Our lease says the Theatrical Promotions people have to turn it over to us ‘clean and operable.' Right now it is neither.”
Don Covey, president of the Downtown Business Association, looked forward to having a manager he said would do better at keeping the cinema vital - not to mention the restaurants, cafes and other stores that benefit from the extra foot traffic on Plumas Street.
“If he can do the same job he did in Colusa, it would be fantastic,” Covey said. “I've gone to the Colusa Theatre; I know a number of people in Yuba City do. It's a comfortable theater, it's clean, it's well-operated.”
When Clark and Tuscano, both local business owners, bought the Sutter in June 2005, they intended to keep it open only as a placeholder before the construction of the Roxy Yuba City Stadium 15 Theater, which North American Cinemas Inc. - led by Tocchini, the Theatrical Promotions CEO - hopes to build at Shasta and Bridge streets.
A nonprofit group was to raise money to purchase the Sutter and convert it into a live-performance venue with screens for independent films, a project Covey estimated would cost $5 million.
But soaring construction costs have grounded the Roxy project, and Cinemark USA Inc., owner of the suburban-style Movies 8 off Highway 99, has pushed the city for zoning changes to allow it to add four more screens - possibly undermining the Roxy's chances of success.
A Sutter Theatre with new management - even an artsy movie house avoiding the popular Hollywood fare screened at Movies 8 - might leave the Roxy too little room to survive, Covey suggested.
“It leaves the Roxy even more up in the air if that happens,” he said. “There are only so many screens the community can support, and we're on the edge of maxing that out.”
Appeal-Democrat reporter Howard Yune can be reached at 749-4708. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.