Pittsfield isn't getting its Beacon loan back. So what choice should we make?

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As I’m sitting at my desk thinking of what to write (after taking a very long break from writing, I know), I’m watching the snowflakes fall: veiling the gold “BEACON CINEMA” letters across the street. They are there every time I open the curtains, and usually one of the last things I see when I close them at night. After growing up in Pittsfield, I’m lucky I can live in a central location right across the street from the theater. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Beacon brought me to live where I am now. If the theater had not been opened, would the building that I live in be renovated into apartments? Would my favorite haunt, the Marketplace Cafe, exist?

I know. These creature comforts mean nothing to a family trying to figure out their meal for the next day, or the man who’s couch surfing to stay out of the freezing weather that’s quickly descending. And the talk of “restructuring” (read: forgiving) the loan issued from the city’s economic development fund is just seems like insult to injury. What else could we do with the $2.5 million currently on the table in negotiations with the prospective buyer from Michigan? The answers are limitless.

There isn’t an easy answer, but I wanted to share my perspective on the choice we seem to face:

Option A: Default on the loan, foreclose the building, and the city loses the loan money.

Option B: Restructure the loan with the new buyer, the city loses the loan money. The theater keeps its lights on, the employees keep their jobs, downtown keeps its draw.

Was the 2009 project doomed from the start? Sometimes I wish I had more business acumen so I could provide more insight. I don’t know about the intricacies of financing the day-do-day operations, the investment of upgrading the seating several years ago, or the huge cost of renovating the historic building. To me, this doesn’t seem like a zero-sum game. If the Beacon gets it loan forgiven, it doesn’t mean we are $2.5 million poorer. It means we still have a carrot to attract spending downtown, and maybe more people like me who have the good fortune to shop for a living space that suits their interests. And anyone who knows me knows I spend plenty of time and money downtown.

Can Pittsfield support two theaters? Some would say “let the market decide.” If the Beacon closes, we always have the Regal Cinemas 10. Maybe it’s the theater we deserve, with the constant specter of parking that seems to hinder most organic, grassroots activity in the United States. The long drive to Lanesborough, to be greeted by the dark, sinking, Titanic of a mall in an ocean of asphalt might be the best we can do.

Or, we could make another choice, and throw our support behind a business that is conducive to the regrowth of our downtown, rather than one that is cannibalizing it. Like politics, I am sure there is a large contingency that doesn’t care one way or another; they just want to see a movie. To them I ask, what influences your choice? Unlike the voting booth, you cannot skip out.

Unless you vote for the Netflix third party instead, and skip the theater trip altogether.

The Pittsfielder5 Comments