Galaxy Cinema's fall starts central Cary shift

akenney@newsobserver.comMay 12, 2013 

The fall of the former Galaxy Cinema's trademark crest at 4:31 p.m. Tuesday marked the end of an era. Since the late 1970s the theater hosted first dates, an artistic film scene and countless memories. A Harris Teeter supermarket is scheduled to build on the site next year.

ANDREW KENNEY - AKENNEY@NEWSOBSER.COM

— The old theater’s crown didn’t come down easy. The distinctive crest atop the former Galaxy Cinema yawned and creaked as the cranes tore at it from different angles, then finally fell at 4:30 on Tuesday afternoon.

A few witnesses pressed against office windows and the fence surrounding the old theater, once known as the Imperial IV. For those who grew up here in the 1980s, it was a sign that redevelopment is erasing the haunts and hangouts that once defined the town.

“It’s like an era gone by. ... I’m glad now things are going up, but some of these things that have been here so long are changing so rapidly,” said Lorrie DuFour, 44, who had her first date at the movie theater 30 years ago.

The Imperial’s debut in the late 1970s was a marquee event, with then-U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms in attendance and “elegant decor and appointments” waiting for guests. It later became an art-house theater, drawing weekly crowds with foreign-language films, including a heavy emphasis on India’s Bollywood, and airings of cult-favorite television shows.

Harris Teeter and an arm of Raleigh-based York Properties plan to build a 37,000-square-foot supermarket on the site, possibly replacing a nearby store. The company also demolished a nearby office building and plans to add smaller retail shops while up-fitting the remaining stores near the theater.

York, which created the shopping center, began to consider redevelopment because the aging theater building wasn’t drawing enough business to the center or making enough money itself, according to company president George York.

“Because it was an older theater, it was not generating the rent that it even was when it was a theater 20 years ago. We had to make some concessions to keep it up and running,” he said.

York said he believes the theater was hurt by the competition of modern cinemas with fancy seating and larger screens.

The Galaxy carved out a niche with its food and drink selection, unique decoration, beloved staff and a spread of films that weren’t playing elsewhere. It was enough to build a dedicated following – but the theater would have had to pay about 250 percent more rent to justify its continued presence, York said.

Moreover, he argued, the new supermarket will lift neighboring businesses when it arrives in mid-2014.

“We would anticipate that the foot traffic from the other tenants will improve, their sales will improve,” York said.

This may only be the beginning of change in central Cary. Renovating and replacing buildings often proves the best way to draw new tenants to older areas of town, York said. But this new stage in the life cycle is bringing an unfamiliar feeling for Cary, where for decades construction has occurred primarily on the outskirts of town.

News of the Galaxy’s demise spurred hundreds of people to band together in protest online, as did plans to demolish a beloved water tower near Cary High School. Online commenters lamented that even their viral force couldn’t change the theater’s fate, and one said its destruction was like the death of a loved one

In some cases, change is inevitable. Most businesses don’t own the land beneath them – they rent from developers, and community-scale movements can’t deal in the multi-million-dollar sums that drive real-estate.

Even Cary Towne Center, once the town’s capstone mall, is considering “modernization and repositioning,” according to a letter from CBL & Associates Properties to the Cary Town Council.

Meanwhile, the town has torn down several of the homes that stood on a block in the middle of downtown, perhaps to be replaced by mixed-use development, and long-term plans increasingly focus on redevelopment and infill construction.

The boom town is aging, and change won’t be limited to its rural borders any longer.

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary

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