Cleveland Cinemas announced in August that its 10-screen downtown venue, Tower City Cinemas, would be closing permanently after a fatal double whammy: the financial losses of the Covid-19 pandemic and the announced departure, earlier in the year, of the Cleveland International Film Festival.
A team from the Cleveland State University Cauldron produced a video tribute to tell the story of the theater and to commemorate its passing. Writer Maggie Phillips and Videographer/Director Jack Brancatelli published the short documentary above, which includes commentary from former Tower City Cinemas employees and CSU Film Professor Kevin Vaughn.
The video captures the current desolate conditions at The Avenue at Tower City, including the ghost-town food court, and wonders what might have been if Cleveland Cinemas invested in and more aggressively marketed its central location, and if downtown residents had embraced it as the community asset it is.
Cleveland Cinemas owner Jon Forman was quoted in a New York Times story last week saying that Tower City Cinemas might not be the chain's only casualty. He said he might be forced to close the Cedar Lee and Chagrin Cinemas — currently the only two Cleveland Cinemas locations to have re-opened — until the pandemic runs its course and people can confidently return to the movies. The local chain is currently operating with fewer than 10 employees, down from 85 during normal operations, and is not generating enough revenue from patrons to break even.
“We’re on a slope going down,” he told the Times. “Without some sort of support, businesses are not going to survive.”
As for Tower City, local development blogger Ken Prendergast reported in September that "CityBlock," the proposed reimagining of the mall as an entrepreneurial hub, was "back on track." There was reportedly "chatter" that owner Bedrock Detroit, who purchased the Avenue in 2016, was now moving forward with redevelopment plans, despite a series of leadership changes over the past year.
Tower City Cinemas was meant to be untouched during the proposed renovation, and the future of the venue is unknown. If indeed a CityBlock-style revamp inches closer to reality, a national chain like Cinemark or AMC could acquire the location and re-open. That's an outcome that former Tower City Cinemas employees and regular customers would no doubt welcome.
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