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Spring Grove is ‘reeling in’ new movies

By Laura Gossman

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

SPRING GROVE — Earlier this week, the lobby of the Spring Grove Cinema smelled more like fresh paint than buttered popcorn, but its owners say it won’t be long before the theater seats fill up and the lights turn down.

Spring Grove Communications expects to open its 200-seat theater, still under construction, in mid-April.

The telephone cooperative has funded several projects in that city over the years.

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Spring Grove Communications general manager Craig Otterness said the cooperative’s board of directors thought a movie theater would be a community asset.

"It just made sense to us," Otterness said. "We started planning this back when gas was $4 a gallon. We knew residents had to travel to either La Crosse (Wis.) or Decorah (Iowa) to see a movie."

Few small-town theaters

There are only a few small town movie theaters in southeast Minnesota — JEM Theater in Harmony, the State Theatre in Kasson and the State Theater in Zumbrota — all of which are struggling to attract movie-goers.

"Attendance could decline after the newness wears off," Otterness said. "That’s why we wanted to design the theater so that it could be used for anything."

The $1 million cinema also will have a 12-foot-by-24-foot stage, which could attract local music groups and theater companies.

Most of the second floor of the theater will be open for rental space.

Instead of old film reels, the Spring Grove Cinema will have digital projection and will be 3-D capable.

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Otterness hopes to promote local businesses before each movie starts. He said the screen also might be used by gamers.

The cooperative has been working with independent movie companies that decide which and when movies will be showing.

"They run the show, so to speak," Otterness said.

Manager hired

The cooperative has hired Sarah Holland as the cinema’s manager. She likely will begin hiring staff for the theater soon.

Otterness expects the theater to be open Thursdays through Sundays.

The theater has two floors — one for the theater, lobby and concessions and the other for the projection booth and rental office space.

On Wednesday, Morem Electric employees Gary Kappers, of Harmony, and Kevin Ostern, of Preston, were working in the concession area.

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The general contractor for the project is Engen Construction, of Mabel.

Otterness was expecting the movie screen to arrive today.

"The biggest hold up right now is the seats and acoustic panels," Otterness said. "The seats should be comfy."

He said the cinema will start to look like a real theater when the marquee is installed.

The cooperative has helped fund a fitness center and a library in the community, as well, and recently received an economic development award from the Minnesota Telecom Alliance at its 2009 conference.

"We’re striving to get people to shop locally, and we need to give our residents a reason to stay here," Otterness said. "With a new aquatic center, cinema, nice restaurants and several antique shops, there’s also good reason for visitors to want to come and spend an entire day here."

Laura Gossman covers news in Olmsted, Dodge, Fillmore and Houston counties. If you have news tips and story ideas, call her at (507) 285-7619.

For more information, go to Postbulletin.com/weblinks.

Spring Grove Communications http://www.yourlocal.coop

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