SGAA moves to buy local theater

Chris Aiken, Pioneer Staff Writer 
Wednesday, June 6, 2018


The Sweet Grass Arts Alliance (SGAA) has undertaken an ambitious effort to purchase the local movie theatre and have it outfitted for live performance. The organization must raise $160,000 by the end of July in order to fulfill a purchasing contract with current owner Yancy Terland.

If the Arts Alliance acquires the theatre, Terland will continue managing it under a renewable, one-year contract, and the theatre will continue to show mainstream movies in addition to hosting special music and dance performances. Terland, who purchased State Cinema in April 2015, said the movie business had been a wash for most his ownership. 

“It pays its own bills and that’s it,” he said. “For an individual owner to run it is basically a community service.” 

The theater was marketed to a number of prospective buyers, all of whom turned their noses after seeing that it made just enough revenue to stay afloat.

With Terland growing eager to sell, a sense of urgency arose in the Arts Alliance board meetings, which convene within view of the theater at Two Rivers Gallery across the street.

“We were looking out the window as we planned our events,” Layne said. “And we were saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have these in the theater?’”

Across the country, non-profit organizations are coming to the aid of small local theaters, recognizing their value may be more cultural than commercial, Layne added. 

It’s unclear what will happen to the theater if the SGAA is not able to purchase it. Terland said he hasn’t decided who else he would sell it to, but SGAA members speculate that it would become an office building or, worse, a vacant property investment. 

“It’s just going to be another empty building,” said board member Barbara Van Cleve. 

Layne shared Van Cleve’s concern about the disappearance of nighttime “hang out’ spots for young people in Big Timber.”

“Maybe movie theaters aren’t important,” she said. 

Maybe home entertainment options such as Netflix would drive them into obsolescence after all.

For more on this story, subscribe to the Pioneer, pick up a copy of this week’s edition on newsstands, or subscribe to our e-edition from our homepage.