Flix houses nixed in Normal

For the most part, the past few months’ worth of posting here on C-U Blogfidential has been relatively free of snark, so we couldn’t help but take a few moments (and a couple of arguable steps backward) to comment on this Pantagraph article from Friday, December 11, regarding the fates of two movie venues in Normal, IL – one on borrowed time, the other proposed – even though the logic behind certain decisions has nothing to do with watching films.

While we’re all breathing numerous sighs of relief that the Art Theater in Champaign will remain with us – watch for our two cents on that development later this week – CUBlog also considers the imminent demise of University 8 Cinemas, 1010 S. Main St., Normal. We already knew long-time operator Carmike Cinemas had relegated it to a second-run house, but The Pantagraph reports that developers are actively pitching Normal’s planning commission on rezoning the property for “medium-density residential” use. As the valuable location is mere blocks away from the campus of Illinois State University, we can easily see where this is headed despite the complaints of residents with adjacent private property who want to retain peace and quiet in their immediate neighborhood.

However, nowhere in the piece is it clear that University 8 is still open! Carmike’s Web site lists a current schedule featuring ZOMBIELAND, JULIE & JULIA, G-FORCE, THE HANGOVER, and other titles, so it must be true, no? One wonders if said developers have been jumping on the possibility because Carmike set a public time table for vacating University 8 and we simply missed the memo. (Like a big corporate entity would send memos to CUBlog in the first place … oh, wait a minute …) Regardless, it feels like The Pantagraph is inadvertently painting all this as a done deal given the commission’s favorable vote; the article includes a picture of the University 8 with a clearly outdated movie selection (even for second-run) on the marquee while a Town of Normal “land use matter” sign lords it on the front lawn.

As much as we like to complain about the sterile nature of today’s mall-compatible Hollywood emporiums, the University comes from an earlier era of multiplex evolution when the places didn’t seem nearly as unwieldy. Also, its geographic location in between ISU and Illinois Wesleyan University made it an ideal trip for students and residents who wanted to avoid the shopping-centric outskirts of Bloomington-Normal or, dare we say it, take a pass on the more esoteric offerings at the single-screen Normal Theater. Your humble editor also has a soft spot for the joint since it is the only place to date where he’s snuck into a show, way back in 1992 for the opening night of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. We’ll be sad to see this one go.

In less disheartening news, the article also discusses how residents from a different neighborhood thwarted the construction of a new Family Video and adjacent mini-mall at Linden St. and Raab Rd. in Normal. Didn’t Urbana residents help put the kibosh on a Family Video store off of N. Lincoln Ave. a while back? CUBlog actually isn’t too broken up about this recurring theme. It has less to do with keeping corporate America and consumer commotion away from the homestead than about how “videoplexes” like FV hype the obnoxious flavors of the moment and otherwise lump together their back catalogs indiscriminately – especially now that videos-for-sale and video games have eked their way onto the floor.

When we have valuable resources run by knowledgeable staff to support such as That’s Rentertainment and The Movie Fan, does it really matter if oodles of “guaranteed copies” of ALIENS IN THE ATTIC and WORLD’S GREATEST DAD are available within walking distance? You be the judge, dear reader.

~ Jason Pankoke

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