On the Record: Theater Policy Must Go

By: Mr. Wilson on September 15, 2005
It excites me that the City Council is considering dumping the city's ridiculous movie theater policy, which prohibits theaters with more than six screens outside the Downtown area. I don't think the Council will actually change the policy, mind you. Good public policy will once again take a back seat to emotion and hysteria. Besides, the Council has to somehow justify that great boondoggle known as The Grand Theater. I'm not anti-Downtown. On the contrary, those who know me -- and those who have read my thoughts here on Lincolnite over time -- know that I love Downtown. I am one of Downtown Lincoln's biggest supporters. But it is not in the city's interests to use artificial props to support Downtown at the expense of greater opportunities for economic development elsewhere. Downtown Lincoln can support itself. It's thriving. People want to live, shop, and work Downtown. That's what we've been told, anyway. By Mayor Seng. By the City Council. By Polly McMullen and the Downtown Lincoln Association. If that is true -- if it's not just a mass delusion among city leaders -- then any policy that restricts growth outside of Downtown is a willful and deliberate fraud, implicitly (if not explicitly) designed to unreasonably restrict Lincoln's economic growth. If it is not true that Downtown Lincoln is booming, then Lincolnites are being lied to and led to lend the power of government to various activities based on false pretenses. The reality of the situation is much more complicated than that simple dichotomy can portray, but its hyperbole doesn't render it useless. It marks the beginning of some good thinking exercises. If Downtown Lincoln is doing so well, why not let the market do its thing? If it is not d oing well, why are Lincolnites being told otherwise? And if it's not doing well, isn't that instructive of Lincolnites' willingness to support certain types of development in certain parts of town over others? Consider: Lincolnites have been told for several years that the housing market in Downtown Lincoln is booming. My impression is that it is healthy, but I wonder just how booming it really is. If there is so much demand Downtown, why did the developers of The Option decrease the number of units in their project by over 65%, as announced today in the Journal Star? Don't developers in a booming marketplace usually increase the size of their projects? Lincoln's theater policy also effectively supports a monopoly on behalf of the Douglas Theater Company. For the most part, Douglas does a good job in Lincoln. But they could be better, and they would be if they were forced to by market pressures. Or perhaps Douglas would run a multiplex built on the city's fringes. If that happens, it will show just how little faith Douglas has in The Grand, the theater they promised so much of only a year ago. Lincoln's Downtown theater policy is restricting real economic growth opportunities for the city as a whole on behalf of a small portion of the city that isn't living up to its hype. It's time to remove the economic growth restrictions placed upon Lincoln by the theater policy, and to stop providing government-enforced monopoly status for Douglas Theaters.


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