Fill Elm City void with first-rate theater

Long before J. Crew or Urban Outfitters moved in, York Square Cinema was a mainstay of Broadway — for all intents and purposes, the Yale movie theater. But well before York Square shut its doors this summer, it was clear that the theater, which had fought a long, unfruitful battle to screen Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, was doomed. Now, a question that long seemed inevitable: What comes next?

Early suggestions of potential tenants for the space have been disappointing. While retailers like a full-fledged drugstore might be a welcome addition to Yale’s central campus, York Square’s location should be maintained as a space for entertainment — one that will bring a steady flow of traffic at night, and one that will go a longer way toward improving student life. And although the University does not own the building, it is certainly in its interest to make substantial efforts, as the dominant presence in the neighborhood, to keep a theater on Broadway.

Although their single-minded pursuit of a lawsuit against film distributors proved their downfall, York Square managers Robert and Peter Spodick were right: New Haven should have a place to see the country’s most popular movies on opening weekend. The fact that a large, vibrant city with so many free-spending students has no such venue is not only frustrating, but a waste of an excellent business opportunity. (An aside: The large film studios that are so desperate to get us to see movies at theaters instead of downloading them might tell us what to do when they prevent these movies from being screened locally.) The Spodicks’ lawsuits couldn’t change things, but perhaps the assistance of Yale might. Whether it can be done through an independently owned theater or by bringing in a national chain, a mainstream cinema is long overdue, and something that Yale’s developers should make a priority.

If either Yale or the space’s current owners find little luck in attracting a mainstream theater, there are other attractive options. A theater showing popular independent films and second-run movies is probably still feasible, despite new competition from the artsy Criterion Cinemas downtown. Ward 1 Alderwoman Rebecca Livengood ’07’s idea to create a co-op cinema run by the local community is intriguing, as are the rumblings among some theater students that the location could be purchased for use as Yale performing space. But we remain very skeptical that the co-op idea — which requires significant volunteer effort and charitable contributions that might better be directed elsewhere — is a viable long-term solution. Likewise, while we encourage Yale to look for additional theater space as needed, York Square’s Broadway locale should be filled by a tenant that can draw crowds on weekdays and in the summer.

It is sad to see an icon like York Square go, but in the theater’s wake comes the opportunity to fill a long-standing void in New Haven. Hollywood has long proven its global reach from San Diego to Shanghai — perhaps soon, we might be able to catch “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” in New Haven, too.

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