Is the bright new marquee at this movie theater too much for Madison?
Madison — It’s a sign of the times. Modern times.
But is it too hip for this tony town’s downtown?
It’s the new LED marquee atop Madison Art Cinemas, the two-screen, Boston Post Road theater that attracts film buffs along the Connecticut shoreline from New Haven to New London and beyond.
Four gooseneck lamps illuminated the previous marquee, which seemed appropriate to an earlier time, perhaps the silent era. But the new electronic marquee, installed less than three weeks ago, offers movie-poster graphics and a panoply of colors, not to mention the capacity to oh, say, promote the town’s Olympic athletes.
Up until Thursday night, that’s how Arnold Gorlick, the theater’s owner, was using the marquee.
But then, acting on input from the town planner and the Advisory Committee for Community Appearance, the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission decided Gorlick was violating the terms of the marquee approval the commission granted in May.
“White letters on a black background — that was the proposal,” said David Anderson, the planner.
So, Gorlick, 71, who said he’s invested $30,000 on the marquee — about three times what black letters on a white background would have cost him — will have to file a new application to make use of at least some of the marquee’s full range of capabilities. Its potential as a community billboard, a use Gorlick has been perfectly willing to explore, appears uncertain, at least for the time being.
“I’m taking down the Olympics thing,” he told commission members Thursday night. And he did.
From the mix of the marquee’s rotating panels, he removed “Love Our Local Olympians,” an American flag billowing in the background. He removed panels devoted to each of the three Madison natives competing in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea: Kiley McKinnon and Mac Bohonnon, aerial skiers, and Zachary Donohue, an ice dancer.
In an interview the day before the commission’s review of the marquee, Gorlick said he devised the tributes to the Olympians in connection with a town rally in their honor. The Feb. 10 event took place in front of the post office, a couple of doors down from the theater. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and state Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., D-Branford, showed up, he said.
First Selectman Tom Banisch said Gorlick proposed the tributes and that the town accepted.
“He was like a kid with a new toy, which I understand,” said Banisch, a fan of the new marquee. “I happen to like it. It’s a good addition to downtown, used responsibly.”
Gorlick said he never intended anything flashy.
“No fireworks, no dancing cups of soda,” he said. “It’s not like I was going to advertise pork chops for $1.79 a pound at Stop & Shop.”
He said safety was the reason he pursued an upgrade of the old marquee, which had been in place since soon after he acquired the theater in 1999.
“Two, sometimes three times a week, somebody would have to get up there on a 12-foot ladder to change the letters by hand,” Gorlick said. “It was just a fact that females didn’t want to do it. I had to make sure I had a male on every Thursday who was willing to go up there.”
The new marquee’s installation has occasioned negative feedback.
Gorlick said he got three emails and a couple of “angry phone messages” right away from people who contended the marquee was not in keeping with “the character of this town founded in the 17th century.” In some cases, he said, the critics hadn’t actually seen the marquee.
In another sign of the times, scores of townspeople have taken to Facebook to make their opinions known.
“Starting to look more like Vegas than historical Madison,” observed one poster.
“Welcome to Broadway, soon to be Times Square, Madison,” another wrote. “I don’t think anyone is disputing the change to digital ... but this is too much flashing and moving.”
“Everyone here seems to think that Madison is known for its charm,” a poster wrote near the end of a still-growing thread. “Reading these comments, I can see clearly that our town is greatest at hyperbole and NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard).”
Eileen Banisch, executive director of the Madison Chamber of Commerce, said “it’s a loud minority” that has a problem with Gorlick’s new marquee.
“Initially, people were freaking out because it’s different,” said Banisch, the first selectman's wife. "People were taken aback, but they’ve softened. I would say 75 percent of the people I’ve spoken to are OK with it — if he keeps it low-key, not too flashy."
“The old one was so cool, a throw back,” she said.
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