BARBERTON: An act to preserve Lake Cinemas 8 was at the heart of Barberton City Council’s meeting Monday night as more than 30 people showed up in support of the historic theater.
The fight to save Barberton Lake Theater Complex follows reports that the theater will close by the end of the year. The current tenant, Phil Canfora Sr., said he was unaware the city is looking for a new developer to take over.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s not closing,” Canfora said, who has run the theater for 10 years with his son, Phil Canfora Jr., under his company Lake Entertainment Group Ltd. “It was reported by another news source and we read that in the paper and we’re astonished.”
Jordan Edwards, an employee for more than two years, spoke admirably about Canfora at the meeting, describing his generosity through giving employees free movie tickets with every paycheck, surprising them with free pizza and allowing them to view movies before the public.
“Anyone who comes in asking for donations for whatever reason—it doesn’t matter what the cause is for—he gives free movie passes,” Edwards said.
Council President Fred Maurer also spoke in agreement with Edwards, speaking of Canfora’s character and integrity. He said he hopes Canfora will be able to run the theater without help from the city.
“I’m sure, Mr. Canfora, we can find a way to come to some amicable agreement,” Maurer said. “The theater is good for the city, good for the populace and good for downtown.”
Canfora also stood up to speak before council to offer some history of the theater’s financial struggles and voice his concern for the future of the complex.
“I don’t think it’s fair to us to defer it to a group of business people who aren’t tied to the city,” he said.
Mayor Bill Judge put out a request for proposed use to the community in search of new development ideas for the facility.
“The theater is a great economic boost for downtown,” Judge said. “It’s going to be devastating if that does close, but there are no other options.”
Canfora has a five-year lease contract with the city ending Dec. 31. He has been unable to pay rent to the city for about three years, but said when he approached Bob Genet, the previous mayor, he was told to keep showing movies.
“They debated it and, by lack of forcing the issue, allowed us to continue on,” Canfora said. “The city’s never sent us a bill. The new mayor is going to force the issue.”
Judge said new developers can propose any ideas to run the facility, adding that a university and church have expressed interest in the complex. He added that he doesn’t want to limit the facility to theaters. With the movie industry going digital, the cost to change film reels to digital is $70,000 per theater.
“Eight theaters times $70,000—that’s a lot of money,” Judge said.
Those interested can find a request for proposal on the city’s website or at the Barberton Municipal Building. Proposals for the property are due on Dec. 13. At that time, council will review the submissions.
Contact Joe Stefan, assistant planning director, with any questions at 330-848-6729 or JStefan@cityofbarberton.com.