I’m writing today to provide an update and status report on the cinema. Several years ago I was approached by Paul Doyle, who was seeking help to establish a small first run movie theatre in my neighborhood. I had been very active in helping Columbia City reestablish itself, so naturally I thought it would be great to have movies close to home. (Full disclosure: my wife and I helped to find investors, and a few are personal friends.)
The Cinema has been a real favorite in the South End, and it has survived despite the lousy economy. About a year ago, I learned that the cinema had grown from a one screen operation into a three screen operation without obtaining the proper permits or making the required updates for public safety as required by the Seattle Fire and Building Codes. As with any business, a change in use of all or a portion of a building may trigger additional safety requirements depending on the extent and nature of the change. In this case, when the Cinema increased their capacity and expanded to three screens, they were required by the fire code to install sprinklers. But this vital safety improvement was never done.
The City’s Department of Planning and Development, as well as the Seattle Fire Department, set up a plan that the owner/operator could follow to keep the Cinema open. We granted the Cinema two temporary use permits, and worked with Paul Doyle to allow the Cinema to stay open as a three screen movie house while he worked on getting the necessary permits to bring the cinema up to code. Unfortunately, he did not follow up with the City to get those permits.
Some have asked why an old building in a historic neighborhood cannot just be exempted from public safety and code requirements. The building, an old Masonic hall, is a contributing historic structure in the Columbia City Landmark District; however, that designation does not exempt the building from public safety requirements and does not prohibit the alteration of the interior to install sprinklers. We have all heard about tragedies in large buildings that lacked adequate fire protection, and we cannot close our eyes to these important public safety concerns.
I want the Columbia City Cinema to remain a vital part of our great neighborhood, and so does the City. We have worked with owner Paul Doyle to try to achieve that goal. We all share our concern for public safety and the love of movies shown close to home, and hope that he will work with us to bring the cinema up to code.