Last picture show?

June 23, 2006 12:00 am

Frankly, we're baffled by Baker City's latest crusade against the Eltrym Historic Theatre.

The background:

When Rudyard Coltman bought the Eltrym in the 1990s, he worked with the city's own building inspector to create the multiplex.

The city's building inspector ruled that the Eltrym did not need to install sprinklers. Building code requires sprinklers in all newly built multiplex theaters, but a clause in Oregon's building code allows historic structures to not comply with code for new construction if the alterations to the building don't make the building more dangerous.

The rest is history:

o Baker City gets a three-room movie house — and first-run movies.

o The Eltrym wins Business of the Year honors from the Chamber of Commerce.

o A projector overheats, filling the projection room with smoke — and triggering the alarm. Everyone evacuates.

o A new building inspector tours the building after the evacuation and decides the Eltrym needs sprinklers after all. After threatening to shut the theatre down, the council instead asks for a remediation plan from Coltman.

Coltman, according to his attorney, has agreed to install sprinklers in the occupied portions of the theater. Those sprinklers, coupled with existing fire alarms, would make the theater substantially safer than it is now – or than it ever was when it was a single room theater and not a triplex.

That's not good enough for the Baker City Council, who issued a 60 day warning to the Eltrym: sprinkle the entire building or the city will shut you down.

And the state-level body? The state of Oregon fire marshal has refused to take a stand, saying it is a local issue.

As it now stands, if the city closes the theater, the public perception won't be to blame the theater owner. He'll be the victim, burned by the city not once, but twice.

Voter outrage will only do so much good: only one member of the sitting city council is up for re-election in the fall.

So the real losers will be the public.

This doesn't have to happen.

Sprinkling the occupied portions of the theater fulfills what the city council has said is their objective: the safety of its citizens.

And sprinklers, whether in some or all portions of the building, aren't the last investment Coltman will need to make to keep this theater operating.

Advocates for the disabled have raised some red flags regarding adequately accomodating people in wheelchairs.

It would seem that, for all of the talk of economic development, there's not been adequate effort made to come to a solution on keeping this historic theatre open for Baker City.