Thursday, November 8, 2012

Chatham 14 Theaters: Is the Best Yet To Come

Last night at the ICE Lawndale 10 theaters, they celebrated President Barack Obama victory over Mitt Romney. I'm quite sure it was a welcomed distraction for owners Mr and Mrs. Donzell and Alisa Starks. Unfortunately, the Starks could not celebrate with patrons who frequent Chatham 14 theaters located at 210 W. 87th. as the new management company chose not to host a viewing party. For some the absence of events like this and the Starks I.C.E company managing the theater marks the end of an era. Several weeks ago my friends at The Sixth Ward Blog ran a post on the theater after noticing signs in the window stating the tenants had been evicted and other signs stating the theater will reopen under new management. Subsequently, the mainstream media got involved in the story as well as other online media outlets and the story went in every direction. At the Sixth Ward Blog we sent out emails to the owners as well as elected officials to get more information. Mrs. Starks responded and simply stated that it was a disagreement between the owners. The owners being the Starks and Mr. Michael Silver. It came as a surprise to most that the Starks had a silent partner in the business and one who was not African American. A war of words took place as representatives from both sides decided to issue press releases and speak to certain media sources. Also, some "community activist" started their own war of words and even went to the extent of asking neighborhood moviegoers to bypass the Chatham 14 and go the Lawndale 10 instead. This angered me because when the Starks came to the Chatham Avalon Park Community Council meeting in 1996 and announced the opening of what what then Cineplex Odeon ICE theaters Chatham 14 the community was elated as it brought a theater back to the community. The community had not had a movie theater since the early 1980's when the Rhodes theater closed its doors for good and was subsequently demolished. The community was very proud as the Starks grew up in the community and still have family living in the Chatham community. Mr. Starks simply stated that African Americans want to see movies like Forest Gump just like everyone else and the community should not have to travel across the city to see a movie. Also, he stated that he wanted to provide jobs to the community especially the youth. In November 1997,the Starks dreams came to fruition and the Chatham 14 along with the Lawndale 10 and the 62nd Western facility opened the public.

 For several years, the Chatham 14 was the highest grossing movie theater outside of downtown Chicago. The Starks expanded their empire to include the Meridian movie chain that included the Hyde Park and Bricktown theaters. Unfortunately, they were not received as well as they had been in Chatham and subsequently sold the Meridian theaters and after major stores such as Dominicks and Starbucks closed in the strip mall where the Lawndale 10 was located, it was closed as well. Per published reports the Starks entered into a partnership with Mr. Silver in 2007 and in January 2011, the Starks received $10 million in financing under a State of Illinois loan guarantee program to reopen the Lawndale 10 and make improvements to the Chatham 14. While many had initial concerns that the new management team would ax independent film programs such as Black World Cinema and Shortcutz, this has not been the case. The theater reopened to host the Englewood Film Festival as it had previously promised. Also, the new management team has retained all the employees of the Chatham 14 including several key employees. It has been reported that they employ almost 100 people at the location. While a security firm was relieved of their duties during the dispute, a new firm owned by African Americans has been retained. 

So it baffles me that these "community activist" who bum rushed the Shell Oil project with Ed Gardner, a block away demanding to see more African Americans want to put other African Americans in the unemployment line. Secondly, the Starks are well educated individuals, one a former investment banker and the the other a national account advertising executive. To take it back further Mr. Starks didn't become a Tuley/Cole Park basketball legend or go on to play basketball for Hales Franciscan or Western Illinois by being soft. 

So to believe they can't handle their business shows that these individuals are little faith and are not the "insiders" they claim to be. No one likes the situation and no one but the owners and their attorney's and bankers know what is really going on. This is business not tiddlywinks, so we must let the parties work it out and accept the outcome whichever way it goes. But, to prematurely cause friction in an already ugly negotiation doesn't help either party, especially the Starks, so for me until I receive official word from the Starks or their representatives I'm going to continue to go to the Chatham 14 and help keep some of my neighbors employed just as the Starks envisioned.

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