New York launches loan program to help local movie theaters

New York state isn't only providing generous tax breaks to film and TV productions.  Now it's offering low-interest loans to small-town cinemas.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that $400,000 in funding is being made available to help community theaters in upstate New York purchase digital projectors.

Small-town theaters nationwide have been scrambling to convert their theaters to digital because studios are expected to stop delivering film prints in North America as early as this year. To date, 36,105 out 40,045 screens nationwide have installed digital projectors, according to the National Assn. of Theatre Owners.

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New York state's digital film conversion loan fund, offered through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, is intended to help meet the need.

“Across the Adirondacks, movie theaters have been struggling to take on costly upgrade projects to stay in business,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Faced with this reality, businesses and community leaders came together through the regional council initiative to create the Digital Film Conversion Loan Fund, which will help small-town cinemas in the North Country modernize their equipment and remain competitive."

The loan is part of a large "Go Digital or Go Dark" campaign, an initiative of the Adirondack North Country Assn. and the Adirondack Film Society that works to ensure the future of small community movie theaters. The organizations have led community fundraising efforts to save 10 theaters in the region.

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“In small communities across the region, we still have a number of independent cinemas which are a special part of their downtowns and their quality of life, said Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. "Many of these are operated by dedicated owners, committed to their communities. But without some help for these owners in making this very costly conversion, we will lose these community assets forever."

The state's loan program marks the latest push by New York to support the entertainment industry. Earlier this year, the state extended by five years its film tax-credit program, which awards $420 million annually.

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