A Christian charity that at one time owned the entire island of Ocean City has purchased a Boardwalk movie theater and will dedicate at least one of the screens to first-run, family-friendly movies.
The Tabernacle, the city’s largest nonprofit group, bought the Moorlyn 4 Theatre on Moorlyn Terrace from an entity called Ocean City Boardwalk Holdings LLC, which purchased the four-screen Moorlyn and the Strand 5 Theatre on Ninth Street for an undisclosed price last week.
Citing disappointing revenue, Frank Theatres sold the two seasonal theaters to Ocean City Boardwalk Holdings. Plans for the Strand’s future were not immediately known Friday.
The Tabernacle will operate the newly named Moorlyn Family Theatre as a for-profit business and does not plan to show R-rated or unrated movies when it reopens, President Richard Stanislaw said.
Stanislaw said the charity received a cash gift from an unnamed benefactor earmarked for the purchase.
“We’re looking at ways to use the building year-round,” he said. “At least one of the auditoriums will be for that (first-run movies). Some of that depends on our ability to purchase equipment. The conversion to digital is quite expensive.”
Stanislaw declined to comment on the Strand’s future since it was not part of the Tabernacle purchase.
The state Department of Labor could not find any registration records this week for Ocean City Boardwalk Holdings LLC. The Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce also was not familiar with the group. Director Michele Gillian said she was happy the Tabernacle planned to continue operating the Moorlyn theater.
Frank Theatres once owned small oceanfront theaters from Cape May to Long Beach Island. But the company in recent years has shed many of its smaller theaters in favor of large multiplexes with stadium seating and IMAX screens. The company owns the Rio Stadium 12 in Middle Township, the Tilton 9 in Northfield and the Towne 16 in Egg Harbor Township.
“The economics of seashore theaters just don’t work anymore, period,” CEO Bruce Frank said. “Going to the movies when you’re on vacation is not your first thought. It’s your alternative on a rainy day, unless you have a tentpole picture like Batman or Spider-Man or Transformers. We’re not happy about it, but the theaters were just not profitable anymore. The only theater we have left at the Jersey Shore is Stone Harbor.”
The company plans to replace the film projectors at the five-screen Stone Harbor theater with digital ones when it reopens next spring.
Meanwhile, the company is upgrading the Tilton 9 to offer stadium seating and a new 80-foot IMAX screen in its largest auditorium. Those improvements are expected to be completed next month.
And in 2013, the Jupiter, Fla., company plans to add four more screens to the Rio Stadium 12.
Stanislaw said the Tabernacle will use the Moorlyn to expand its services on the island. One of the auditoriums will be reconfigured for live performances.
The Ocean City Tabernacle settled the island, largely used as cow pasture at the time, with the aim of creating a Christian resort. It remains one of Ocean City’s most influential charitable organizations, counting among its life trustees Ocean City resident and former U.S. Rep. William Hughes, D-2nd, and former Democratic state Assemblyman Edward Salmon, of Cumberland County.
According to its 2011 IRS filings, the Tabernacle raised $1 million in donations and interest in 2010 but had $1.5 million in expenses, largely for its programming. It attracts nationally renowned speakers, such as former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole and U.S. Senate chaplain Barry Black, each summer for its Sunday services.
The Tabernacle also participates in numerous city events, from providing free parking for the annual Ocean City High School graduation to hosting barbecue contests, a farm market, concerts and pony rides for various city festivals.
Business organizations have conducted seminars in the Tabernacle’s spacious 1,000-seat auditorium, the largest on the island.
Stanislaw said the theater represents the charity’s only business interest. Trustees are still developing a business plan, but Stanislaw said the nonprofit likely will create a new corporation to oversee the business.
The group still has to determine whether it will pay property taxes on the for-profit portion of its theater, which was last assessed at $1.5 million, according to the city tax office. The group also will pay taxes on its profits, he said.
Wildwood and Cape May no longer have operating movie theaters.
Ocean City’s movie theaters, in particular, have been a popular option on rainy beach days when long lines would form outside the Boardwalk box offices. Gillian said the theaters have been an important part of the Boardwalk economy, giving other businesses more reason to stay open later in the evening.
“It’s so important to have that amenity on the Boardwalk,” she said. “Ocean City likes to have attractions for everyone: golf, tennis, the beach. Surely the movie theaters have been a part of that equation.”
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