August 13, 2010

Movie theater hoping to open in Freeport this fall

The town passes a tax break for a company planning a complex with six screens, one of them 3D.

By Dennis Hoey
Staff Writer

A new six-screen cinema complex with a 3D movie screen could be open in downtown Freeport in time for this fall's premiere of "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows."

That's the hope of Boston-based Berenson Associates, which got a financial boost for its project this week when the Freeport Town Council approved $200,000 in tax increment financing.

The theater would be in Freeport Village Station, a retail complex that opened last year with a 550-space parking garage. All of the parking is free, a benefit that will continue if the cinema complex opens.

"The town's approval of the TIF was the first hurdle we needed to get over," said Al Yebba, Berenson's chief operating officer. "It's a great help, but there still is a lot of work to do."

He said the next step is to secure financing to help pay for the $2.3 million project.

Berenson Associates asked the town earlier this year for $750,000 in tax increment financing. Berenson reduced that request to $550,000 before agreeing to $200,000 over 10 years.

"Some residents felt (the original) amounts were excessive," said Sande Updegraph, executive director of the Freeport Economic Development Corp.

The cinema complex would occupy space under the L.L. Bean outlet store in Freeport Village Station. Yebba said each theater would have a different seating capacity, with a total capacity of about 760.

The theaters would be operated by Massachusetts-based Belmont Capital, which operates the Windham Five Star Cinema, the Wells Five Star Cinema and Bangor Mall Cinemas under the name Your Neighborhood Theaters.

Yebba said he is optimistic that the Freeport cinema complex -- it may be called the Nordica Theater -- could be open by Thanksgiving, in time for the premiere of the next installment in the blockbuster Harry Potter movie series.

Freeport's original Nordica Theater operated on Bow Street until the early 1970s.

Though $20,000 a year in tax increment financing may not seem like a lot of money, Updegraph said, "It was important for the town to stand up and say, 'We are behind this.'"

Yebba has pledged to hold two Saturday matinee "appreciation events" a year, at which Freeport residents would be able to watch a movie for free.

Town Councilor Joe Migliaccio, one of two councilors who voted against the tax break Tuesday night, said he doesn't feel it is appropriate to provide financial support to "a cineplex."

To approve the financing, the Town Council had to create an arts and culture district in the downtown -- a designation that Migliaccio said doesn't fit a cinema complex.

The TIF arrangement still needs approval from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:


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