When Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer was canvassing for Mayor in early 2005, he noticed a need for his community. Door after door, young folks and senior citizens alike voiced concern that there was no movie theater within the city limits of Granite City. Residents of the city had to drive upwards of 15-20 miles outside of the city just to reach the nearest movie theater.

Granite City Cinema

After close collaboration with the city’s Economic Development Director, John Ferry, and Trivers Associates Architects, the City realized its vision of bringing a local movie theater to its streets. Granite City Cinema opened in August 2010 at 1243 Niedringhaus Avenue, and it is far more than your typical movie theater.

First, the movie theater is entirely City-owned and operated. As the City and its partners got started with the project, they realized that the downtown Granite City TIF was accumulating money, underutilized, and almost at its expiration date. So the Mayor’s Office partnered with two state senators and three state representatives to grant their TIF a 13-year extension. This allowed the City to purchase and renovate a debilitating property, two blocks from City Hall, laying the groundwork for the current theater.

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In keeping with the city’s mantra, “Where Industry and Art Meet,” locally made steel comprises a majority of the constructed theater. Granite City Cinema creates a sense of nostalgia for the city, purposely resembling the historic Washington Theater that was popular in the 1960s and 70s. The theater has three screens and presents to the community a unique opportunity for a mixture of uses. Local businesses rent out space for meetings; religious groups reserve a theater screen and then walk to the nearby Wilson Park; high school sports teams reserve the theater for special celebrations. The theater is well-maintained by 10-12 city employees, most of whom live in the community and are dedicated to creating a welcoming community and bringing the mission of Granite City to life.

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Since its inception, Granite City Cinema has been a huge success for the city. Averaging about 55,000 patrons per year and growing, this local theater attracts people to Granite City’s historic downtown. The added vibrancy around Granite City Cinema battles negative perceptions of the community that are tied to economic downturns in steel production.

When asked about Granite City’s future development, Mayor Hagnauer expressed excitement and deep pride for his city. He noted an initiative led by the City’s Economic Development Department called Grow Granite, which brings together public citizens and private entities to plan for economic growth. At the first Grow Granite meeting, more than 125 city residents brainstormed ways to affect sustainable housing, brand the city’s image, and enhance the school district.

The story of Granite City Cinema is a story of what can happen when a community builds on its assets to meet the needs of its residents. The theater is uniquely sustainable and shows everyone that Granite City is more than just a success of the past. Thanks to inspired community effort from steering committees and the Mayor’s office alike, Granite City hopes to continue expanding to become the perfect intersection for art and industry.

 

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Written by Brendan East, CBN Practicum Student