September 1, 2014

Pioneer Theater in Milford raising funds to go digital

A northwest Iowa movie theater will reopen March 7th, but the future of the business depends on fundraising to buy new digital equipment. The movie industry was scheduled to go digital by the end of 2013 and Sharon Mayer, owner of the Pioneer Theater in Milford, closed down in January. However, in the past week Mayer discovered some movies are still available on 35-millimeter film. “I worked hard and my booker worked hard at being able to get a brand new movie,” Mayer says. “…I just feel it’s important to keep the theater open and as long as I can get film, I’m going to go.”

Mayer is still planning to buy a digital projector. “And I’ll need the public’s help to do that,” Mayer says. Mayer says she’s can’t do it with ticket sales alone. She’s planning a local fundraising push for the digital switch. “I’m going to try to keep the Pioneer Theater on the map and be digital and bring us to into the new century here,” Mayer says. The town of Milford has nearly 3,000 residents and is sometimes called “the southern gateway” to the Iowa Great Lakes.

Many Iowa movie theaters besides the Pioneer in Milford are struggling with the switch to digital. The Hardacre Theater in Tipton began showing movie pictures in 1919, but closed in August. Those cost of digital equipment and upgrades to the historic opera house are estimated at two million dollars and organizers hope to raise the money and reopen the theater in time for the annual film festival that’s held there in August.

In Dubuque, the Mindframe Theaters held local fundraisers and began installing new digital equipment this fall. The largest movie screen in Iowa — in a theater at Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines — will be closing soon, to be replaced by a brew pub with eight smaller screens for movies.

(Reporting by Ryan Long, KICD, Spencer)