Traverse City’s new Bijou Theater has an official grand opening date —and plans for its controversial marquee.
In an exclusive interview with The Ticker, Traverse City Film Festival President Michael Moore and Executive Director Deb Lake announced that the Bijou by the Bay, TCFF’s second year-round theater, will officially open on October 11.
The Bijou, housed inside the historic Con Foster Museum building at Clinch Park, has been under renovation since June 2013, opening briefly during this year’s Film Festival. The new art house theater, which TCFF rents from the city, seats 170 and will be a “second screen” for the State Theater downtown by allowing for additional screenings of new and continuing films.
Yet as plans for the Bijou’s public opening have progressed, a proposal by Moore for a lighted marquee sparked some debate among local officials. Fearing that the moving lights would be a driving hazard and look out of place at the theater’s waterfront location, the city board of zoning appeals rejected Moore’s request to put moving lights on the sign.
The city commission was set to vote on the marquee proposal this week. Instead, due to a seeming lack of support, Moore has agreed to go ahead with a lighted sign with no moving lights.
“The marquee that was approved by the board of zoning appeals is the marquee we’re going to put up. We wanted something like the State’s marquee. But we don’t want to do anything that the city doesn’t want us to do,” Moore says.
Moore adds that the marquee with moving lights was designed to be both unobtrusive and appropriate to its waterfront setting, and that both the staff at City Hall and Traverse City’s police chief saw and approved the presentation that was never seen by the city commission.
“I think we’re known for being tasteful and conservative when it comes to these things. But we have a beautiful marquee that’s being built by a local company, and the lights don’t have to move. That’s an easy thing to do. If there’s not support for it, we don’t want to do it,” Moore says.
Lake adds that the marquee will be programmable, with the ability to adjust light intensity, and that the lights will only be on when the theater is open.
“Some people wonder if it will be on all night—it won’t be,” says Lake.
She also addressed the concern over the fact that the marquee will cover up the “Con Foster Museum” engraving on the building’s vestibule, saying that the building’s historical significance will be recognized by the new theater.
“We’re going to put historical markers on the outside of the building and the lobby, and on the side of the building there will be a new engraving for the Con Foster Museum.”
According to Moore, the construction inside and around the Bijou is nearly complete. Finishing touches include lighting, work on the projection booth, a new curtain, and landscaping, projects which will likely require more fundraising.
“The real story is that we’ve just built a second theater for the city, and the restoration that we’ve done to a historic building. The (Bijou) is beautiful; it’s state of the art, and it’s a huge plus to Traverse City.”
In an event similar to the State Theater’s grand reopening in November 2007, the Bijou’s opening weekend will include free films, an open house, a fundraising dinner, and a sneak preview of an Oscar-contending film.