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Time again for movies downtown?

By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor

One of my great pleasures in life is to look through a box of my stuff at home and discover things that I've forgotten about completely.

It's like a getting yourself a present and not spending any money.

I found a plastic bag with a number of clippings of pages from the former "Springfield Union" from the late 1930s. I can't remember who gave them to me but they're great. I love them as a movie nut and I love them for their historical significance.

We talk today about entertainment districts, but what we have today in any Western Massachusetts city pales compared to what was here almost 70 years ago.

Terry O'Donnell, of our sales staff, can reel off the names of all of the movie theaters that once called downtown Holyoke home. It's impressive. The Paper City clearly loved the movies and nightlife. The only one standing is the Victory an empty shell of a building that has never fulfilled the promise of its long awaited rebirth as a performing arts center.

Chicopee has theaters as well with the Rivoli being the one people still remember fondly. Westfield also had theaters downtown.

Northampton and Greenfield still have downtown theaters, but they are the last ones in this area. The downtown areas of both of those communities have maintained much of their significance as the social center of the community.

The historians and urban planners can tell you exactly how these city centers changed through jobs moving south after World War II, the growth of suburbs and the influence of television.

The film industry has changed as well. Having one screen, as all of these old movie houses had, is an almost impossible financial situation for an exhibitor today. Believe me. I ran a theater with just two screens.

If you book a bad movie, you're stuck with a dog for weeks. In 1939, bills changed on a weekly basis. A sign that a film was a monster hit is when it was held over for several weeks.

I find it interesting the Urban Land Institute's report on Springfield addresses the need to identify and market to key markets, two of which are empty nesters and young people who want something different than the suburbs and shopping malls. Perhaps a downtown movie theater will once again make financial sense.

And other urban centers might benefit from those strategies as well.


Hey log onto for a great story on Springfield and how it has turned a corner. This kind of story could have never happened just a few years ago.

For those without a computer the article has a headline of "Glimmers of a Turnaround in Springfield, Mass."

The first few paragraphs of the story by C.J. Hughes reads, "Late last century, this once-thriving New England city, like many of its neighbors, fell victim to a causal chain of events - mills closed, jobs disappeared, crime rose and residents left.

"While cities like Providence, R.I., and New Haven were revitalizing themselves, Springfield languished, with rampant mismanagement and corruption dealing further blows. By 2004 with the city facing bankruptcy proceedings, the state stepped in, appointing an outside finance board to help get Springfield's books in order.

"But now residents, developers, brokers, financial analysts and urban planners say that the city's long decline may finally be starting to turn around.

"In the fiscal year that ended in June 2005, for the first time since the early 1990s, the city's budget ($470 million) was balanced and even yielded a surplus ($6.8 million). And now Springfield's tax base is set to expand, led by major commercial development, with most of it financed privately."

Now if we could see ourselves as others do, maybe we could make even more headway.

The opinions expressed here are only those of the author.