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February 06, 2014
Grosse Pointe Park's city council gave two thumbs up at its meeting Jan. 27 to a gift that will fund the construction of a second movie theater at Windmill Pointe Park.

The gift, from the Grosse Pointe Park Foundation, will allow the city to add a 60-seat theater to the existing Okulski Family Theatre located in the Lavins Center.

The residents-only theater is very popular, generating profits of $75,000 per year to the city, and that led Park officials to consider adding a second screen, which would allow the city to show a wider variety of movies.

"The distributor put limitations on us," said city manager Dale Krajniak, "and we were only allowed to show one movie at a time requiring us to retain the same movie for several weeks. We weren't allowed to 'share' a screen, showing two different movies during the same week. We focus on Disney-type films, but we want to add to the mix."

According to Krajniak, the total cost of the project, $450,000, will be underwritten by the Foundation. Construction could begin as early as this spring, with completion slated for the fall.

While construction costs will be covered, it was the operating costs that brought questions from councilwoman Laurie Arora.

"I appreciate the Foundation's efforts, but I've had more requests from residents for a dog park than I have had for another theater," she said, a comment that several residents in attendance appeared to agree with. "I love the theater, but is another one necessary?"

Arora also objected to the council being asked to approve the project without being shown any plans or budget projections, and without clarifying if any shortfalls in the operation would be covered by the city's general fund.

"I expect sales and attendance to grow," Krajniak responded. "We'd be utilizing the same staff and lobby area." Krajniak also said the new theater will be a "clone" of the existing one, and drawings and final plan. "We don't have drawings because we didn't want to make the investment if the project wasn't approved."

The second screen will allow the city to show films with more mature themes, something several residents have requested over the years. Current city policy does not allow the showing of R rated movies, though exemptions have been granted for certain movies, including "Gran Torino," which was filmed in the Park, and more recently, "Captain Phillips."

"We have focused on family movies, but that doesn't give our older residents a fair shake," said Mayor Palmer Heenan.

Krajniak said the project had been approved by the city's recreation commission, which brought comments from several residents.

"Why are we just finding out about this now?" one resident asked the council. "Why weren't the residents asked about this project? Shouldn't the community decide on this project rather than the council?"

Another resident echoed those sentiments.

"I came here tonight expecting to see drawings and a budget, and I'm upset that you appear to be making decisions without any of that information," she said.

Heenan responded by saying this was merely an addition to the existing theater.

"We're proud the theater has been popular," he said. "We have done a good thing with the first theater, now let us do another good thing."

A Pemberton resident raised concerns about additional traffic, and questioned the parking problems that could be created by the expansion. Initial plans call for expanding the Lavins Center out into the parking lot, eliminating about five parking spaces in the existing lot.

"I know traffic can be a concern in the summer, but adding 60 seats won't add to the problem," Krajniak said.

And even if traffic does increase, councilman Dan Grano asked the residents, "What difference will it make? You already have a problem. If you had come to us before, we could have been working on it."

The residents asked council to consider tabling the proposal while community input was sought, but the council moved forward, approving the project on a 5-1 tally, with Arora casting the dissenting vote. Councilman Greg Theokas was absent.

After the meeting, Arora said her vote "was not against the added theater," adding, "I expected a formal presentation and expected my questions to be answered regarding the estimated costs to the taxpayers. I didn't get that."

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