CHAMPAIGN - The oldest movie theater in Champaign-Urbana might still have some life in it.
Tom Angelica, owner of the New Art Theatre, which has shown independent, art and foreign releases for 16 years, plans to fight an attempt by the building owner to close down the theater, located at 126 W. Church St., C.
David Kraft, who owns the building, which also houses a barber shop and four apartments, sent a letter Friday to the News-Gazette. The letter runs in Sunday's newspaper.
?As the owner of the Art Theatre building in downtown Champaign, it is with much sadness that I must announce that the finest independent and foreign films will no longer be shown at that location as of the end of February. The Art Theatre was opened as the Park Theatre in 1913 and is the sole remaining single-screen movie theater in Champaign-Urbana,? Kraft wrote.
?As an owner and investor in downtown Champaign, I am anxious to pursue improved or alternative uses for the 5,500-square foot theater. Public input regarding potential redevelopment is welcome.?
Angelica said he was surprised by the letter and had hoped to iron out problems with Kraft. Angelica admits he is arrears in his rent, but also said he has had major problems with the building's heating system.
?It doesn't heat the lobby and/or adequately heat the auditorium,? Angelica said, as an electric space heater hummed in the lobby. ?I was a little late on my rent, and he's kicking me out. I have a lease that is valid to the end of December. I am contacting my lawyer, and that's where it stands. Apparently this will go to litigation.?
The New Art Theatre first started showing independent, art and foreign films in January 1987, when Angelica was a partner with the late John Manley. It was a niche it had unto itself until last year, when two multiplexes, the Beverly Cinemas and Savoy 16, started showing independent and art films.
That has had a major effect on the Art's business. This has not been a banner year for the theater.
?No, not at all,? Angelica said, shaking his head. ?A large part of it is that the Savoy 16 and the Beverly Cinemas have taken in the art market. I had carved out a nice little niche for myself, but now they've entered it.?
The Beverly, owned by GKC Theaters of Springfield, shows art/independent films under ?The Arthouse at the Beverly? moniker. The Savoy 16, although it does not schedule art/independent releases with the regularity of the Beverly, shows them under the ?Art Showcase? heading.
Angelica noticed an abrupt drop in his attendance when the two chains started showing art/independent releases last year.
?It was pretty much all of a sudden,? he said. ?And then films I wanted started showing up out there? at the Savoy 16 and Beverly Cinemas.
Large chains and their multiplexes have an advantage if they decide to get into a niche market like art films. Recent examples are ?Pinocchio? and ?Bowling for Columbine,? two movies Angelica wanted for the Art, but which ended up at the Savoy 16.
?They can tell a distributor, ?We can show this movie in Champaign and Peoria,' and I can't do that. And if an art film doesn't do well, they have 15 other movies to fall back on. I don't,? Angelica added. ?There are not many alternatives for me out there. It's pretty rough right now. If people want to see me stick around, they have to come to my theater.?