Young couples on dates, seniors lugging grandchildren and high schoolers on summer break have shown up for Rock Hill's new outdoor movie series, to the delight of organizers who hoped it would attract a diverse crowd to downtown.
An estimated 230 people came to the City Hall amphitheater to watch "Singin' In The Rain" on July 11. A week later, attendance topped 300 for "To Kill a Mockingbird."
The biggest crowd yet is expected tonight for "E.T. -- The Extraterrestrial," the newest of the five classic films selected for the series, which runs through Aug. 8.
"We were trying to target different folks with each one, and I think it's really worked," said Candy Randall, the city's downtown development manager. "We need seniors, we need college students, we need the high school students to know about us. If we were just doing one genre, we'd be missing out on all those folks."
Though turnouts haven't approached the 500-seat capacity, organizers believe the series shows the amphitheater can be a viable venue for films and live performances. That was the goal behind a renovation this year that brought seats, railing and improved lighting to the seldom-used facility.
Three years ago, before the improvements, the city showed the classic film "It's a Wonderful Life" during the inaugural Christmasville festival. Fifteen people showed up.
"A lot of people didn't know it was there before," said local arts supporter Ashley Peeples, a member of the rock band Heavy Sandwich. "I think it fills a void that we have. Right now, other than school auditoriums, no place that size has been able to stay open."
Over the next few months, a number of events are planned:
Sept. 12: A concert by three local rock bands including Heavy Sandwich, from 7 to 11 p.m.
Sept. 26 and 27: A performance of "Jerry Finnegan's Sister" by the Rock Hill Community Theater.
Oct. 2 and 4: Opening and closing concerts during the city's annual blues festival.
In staging a diverse range of events, Rock Hill officials are trying to follow the model used by Greenville, which has seen a renaissance in its downtown entertainment district.
"Once they got restaurants and retail, they started programming events to draw the people in," Randall said. "I've been doing that (programming events) for two solid years. They're really starting to work."