A combination of live performances and classic movies were key to drawing more than 19,000 people to The Cary theater in its first year, according to the town.
Cary opened the 175-seat theater on Feb. 22 last year after buying the property in 2011 and agreeing to spend $6 million on renovations. Town leaders expect the theater to become a popular amenity that also spurs economic development in downtown Cary.
Town officials didn’t set attendance or economic impact goals for the first year, they said.
But so far, theater managers and Cary leaders are happy with the results.
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“That’s 19,000 people that probably wouldn’t have come otherwise,” said Ted Boyd, Cary’s downtown manager. “And, usually when you come downtown you tack something else to do on your trip.”
“We’re in a great position to do even better next year,” Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said.
About 1,500 people visited The Cary each month, and 13 events sold out, said Joy Ennis, Cary’s downtown theater and events supervisor.
The theater showed a variety of films but found that classics and children’s movies were the most-attended, Ennis said. “Elf,” “The Polar Express,” “Finding Nemo,” “Girl Rising” and “Casablanca” drew the biggest film audiences.
“We threw a lot on the wall to see what would stick,” she said. “I was disappointed that documentaries were not as well-attended.”
Two jazz bands and a “White Christmas Sing-a-Long” were three of the highest-attended live performances.
In the next few months, Ennis said the theater will feature more “event cinema,” where staff plans an entire program around an actor or movie. For example, the theater plans to host a “Marilyn Monroe weekend” from Feb. 26 to March 1.
She hopes to hold a “Sound of Music” event for the 50th anniversary of the film’s release, which comes on March 29.
“We feel confident that our patrons will find that we are listening to the pulse of the community and are excited about programming that fits what they are interested in seeing,” Ennis said.
Meanwhile, local business owners say the town’s investment in the theater has played a role in bringing them to town.
Crosstown Pub and Grill opened two doors down from the theater on Feb. 12. Sheila Ryan, co-owner of the restaurant, envisions customers stopping in Crosstown for a drink or dinner before or after seeing a show next door.
“We’re getting in at the start of very good things” in downtown Cary, she said. “People will have a reason to come downtown at night.”
Soon, Pharmacy Bottle and Beverage will open in the town-owned space next to the theater.
Local developers recently cited renovations to downtown Cary as a reason why they plan to spend $5 million to renovate a longstanding retail center and build a new office building on East Chatham Street down the street from the theater.
The town also found two tenants for the office spaces on the second and third floors of The Cary.
The Cary News moved into the second floor space in January, and the Town Council agreed on Feb. 12 to allow a group of three entrepreneurs to run a business incubator for startups in the third floor space. They’re expected to move in this spring.
“It’s another tool in our toolbox for revitalizing the area,” Councilwoman Lori Bush said. “Except this one’s a big, bright, shiny tool.”