This much is clear after the proposed Warehouse Cinema’s second trip before the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association (NLNA) Zoning Committee on Feb. 24: While the committee and its neighbors generally like the idea, they’re not going to let it sail through without ironclad assurances about two things.
One, that it will be a place where people go to see movies with food and drink on the side and not a bar and restaurant where people can catch a flick.
Two, that the crowds and noise won't spill over onto nearby streets -- or even the desolate block of North Sixth Street this project will enliven.
At its previous meeting, the NLNA asked owner-developer Ray Murray for assurances on both grounds, limits on hours of operation, noise controls, and detailed plans for security, lighting, parking management and seating both inside and outside the theater - and a little less outdoor seating to boot. The NLNA is involved in this project because Murray has applied for a liquor license as part of it, and a zoning overlay gives the association power to attach conditions to licenses in the area.
Murray responded in writing that the cinema will be a cinema first and foremost, but neither his responses to the other requests nor assistant Andrew Kaino's explanations during the second presentation assuaged the other fears.
Much as happened at the previous meeting, committee members responded that the security, lighting and parking measures Kaino outlined didn't rise to the level of "plans," which was what they asked for. In addition, there were still no floor plans laying out the exact dimensions of the interior and exterior spaces, something the committee had also requested.
Some members continued to voice concern that the theater might not have enough space inside to accommodate crowds of moviegoers, a subject also addressed by a former Ritz Five manager who lives in the neighborhood and attended the Feb. 24 committee meeting. That resident noted that patrons coming to see popular movies would form lines that extended out onto Dock and Walnut streets, a situation several committee members wished to avoid. "I used to have arguments with [former Ritz owner] Ray Posel all the time that we didn't have enough space to accommodate patrons," he said. Kaino assured the committee that the Warehouse Cinemas would have enough space, but absent drawings with dimensions, the committee remained unsatisfied by the response.
In his written response, Murray stated that he still wanted 14 outdoor tables in front of the cinema, twice what the committee wanted, and that he wants to keep normal movie theater hours and be able to serve food and beverages until the end of the last screening of the night.
One area of ambiguity that still concerned several committee members and that neither Murray nor Kaino adequately explained is whether people would be able to patronize the lobby restaurant space and outdoor terrace without a movie ticket. Ticketing for the theater will be handled exclusively online, which means that walk-ins would only be able to eat and drink - and several committee members worry that these visitors might make up a large share of the theater's traffic. One committee member, noting a gap between the row of planters that will screen the terrace from the sidewalk and the converted shipping container that forms the theater's vestibule, said the gap would allow non-moviegoers access to the terrace. Kaino advised the member that the space would be closed off when the theater is built.
Committee members also asked how the theater planned to handle smokers. Would there be a designated smoking area? "We don't want to encourage smoking at all," Kaino said. NLNA Zoning Committee Chair Larry Freedman added, "They don't have a smoking plan. In fact, Ray wrote back that he has lost relatives to lung cancer and doesn't want to accommodate smoking."
One committee member continued to voice concern that the theater's bathrooms would be inadequate to handle the traffic, but when Kaino told members that their plans had passed muster with Licenses & Inspections, most members agreed they need not press the issue further.
In the post-presentation discussion, several committee members expressed their disappointment with the quality of the presentation, saying it had not provided any of the information they had requested. One said, "If this is how they are acting now, I don't think they will be a good neighbor. They'll have 350 people letting out with all the other clubs in the area? I don't think they did anything we asked for."
But another committee member urged forbearance. " I think the plans need to be further developed, and I think the presentation was mediocre at best, but I'm excited about this, and I don't think we should discourage them too much," he said.
While the committee disagreed with what it characterized as a "let's wait for people to complain, then we'll fix things" approach on Murray's part - in its motion, it continued to insist on fewer outdoor seats, and it still called for limits on hours of operation - it did at least meet Murray halfway on one key issue: Instead of setting a flat time when food and beverage sales must end across the board, it opted to set three different last-call times: an early one for the outdoor terrace, midnight for the lobby restaurant space, and through the end of the last screening for patrons inside the theaters.
And the committee still wants actual detailed plans for lighting, security, trash pickup, crowd control and parking management. Not to mention those floor plans with dimensions.