York’s historic Sylvia cancels movies, seeks tenant

news@enquirerherald.comJanuary 10, 2013 

— After more than a decade of music, movies and shows, the owner of York’s downtown Sylvia Theater is looking for a tenant or a buyer to take over management of the historic property.

Paul Finnican, who bought the more than 100-year-old building in 2001 and undertook two major renovations, said he is talking with two different groups that have an interest in leasing and managing the property.

“We’re looking for a tenant with a new management team and we’re looking to be a very generous landlord, very open to whatever we could do to help,” Finnican said. He said he’d also be open to selling the property, “but leasing is where we’re getting the most amount of interest.”

Finnican said the part-time staff of four has been eliminated and that the children’s movies shown on weekends have been discontinued for now. However, he said, three music shows are scheduled in January and February and the property is still available to rent for parties and special events.

“It will stay open part-time until we get the new management team in place,” Finnican said in response to questions about whether the theater has closed. He declined to identify prospective tennants, but he said a new arrangement may be in place by the end of March.

“We’re excited about 2013,” Finnican said. “We think that the recession is kind of winding down and now it’s a good time to get somebody in there that wants to run the business themselves and come up with a new perspective.”

He said the interested parties plan to operate the site as a theater. “I think the community wants it to remain a movie theater,” said Finnican, a Charlotte-area songwriter who works as a small business loan originator.

Signa Curry, who has managed the theater’s daily operations for more than a year, and organized a 75th anniversary celebration in 2012, called the Sylvia “the jewel of the community.”

“It was a wonderful experience,” Curry said of her work at the Sylvia. “I truly appreciate all the relationships I made with the patrons and the families and the entertainers. I definately will miss it and hope the right person will come along to open her back up.”

Among the challenges facing the Sylvia were changes in the movie industry, including the move from film projectors to digital projectors. Finnican said that beginning in 2014, all movie theaters will need digital projectors, an upgrade he estaimated would cost $35,000 to $60,000.

An equity partner arragement, announced by Finnican in 2008 with the aim of seeking investors in the theater, was never completed. Finnican said the equity arrangment would have involved 160 ownership units, each with naming rights to a seat.

He said there were about 50 interested buyers, but the deal was never completed because of significant accounting issues and legal costs for a partnership with 160 investors.

“That was really just too complicated legally,” he said. “It became very time consuming for me.”

In early 2011, the theater was renovated with 140 new cushioned seats with cup holders, concrete floors and walk lighting, stage lighting and a Dolby sound system. Finnican said at the time that the $45,000 renovation was part of an effort to expand the theater’s offerings to include stage shows.

The Sylvia opened in 1937 as a one-screen movie house and operated as an entertainment venue until 1968. In the years that followed, the building went through a series of changes, serving as a hotel, a storage building and as a teacher's supply shop.

Finnican, who lives in Charlotte, came to York to close on a business loan deal during 2001; he fell in love with the building and decided to buy it. With his own background in construction, Finnican said he was able to save money by doing much of the theater renovation work himself.

But Finnican said he and his wife, Stephanie, live an hour away, and they don’t have enough time to devote to the theater. “I have tremendous fun and pride in what the Sylvia Theater has done and what it’s become,” he said. “I love going out there. It’s just getting there.”

Finnican said three live shows are planned at the Sylvia in the coming weeks. They are Edwin McCain on Jan 25, Jeff Black on Jan. 26 and James Gregory on Feb. 27. The McCain concert has been sold out, he said, but tickets are available for the other shows.

He also said Life Way Church is continuing to lease the theater for its 10 a.m. service on Sunday.

Finnican said anyone interested in information about the theater can contact him at 704-534-1122.

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