Movies back on in Prineville

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: June 09. 2007 5:00AM PST

A few months after announcing that a problem securing a second exit would make it impossible to reopen the Pine Theater, plans for Prineville’s first movie theater in more than 20 years are back on, as building officials and the theater’s owners say they have found a solution.

Oniko Mehrabi, who bought the theater with her husband, Ali, last fall, said they submitted architectural drawings this week to the Crook County Building Department that include plans for a fire corridor, a design feature suggested by the Crook County Building Department. The corridor would run from the stage area of the theater to the main sidewalk, providing a second exit for the building.

Ali Mehrabi has been working to completely gut the inside of the theater in anticipation of beginning to show movies there in late summer or early fall. The couple had previously said that it could be a few years before they would be open for business.

“Once we got the fire corridor, everybody got really excited,” Oniko Mehrabi said. “We have (had) lots of outpour from the community about it, so honestly, my husband just was motivated.”

Oniko Mehrabi said they are planning to restore the theater’s historic marquee, a downtown Prineville landmark, with new neon lettering, and retain the Pine name. Although they had planned to operate a “McMenamins-style” business, serving food and alcohol as well as showing movies, Mehrabi said they have now changed their model.

She said she plans to show new and mid-run movies, another change from her previous plans, which had encompassed third- and fourth-run films.

“We’re just going to be a nice, family friendly, reasonably priced movie theater,” she said.

County building codes say the maximum occupancy for a building with only one exit is 50 people, but the Mehrabis plan to have seating for about 170 people. They originally thought they would be able to use the theater’s back door as a second exit, but discovered that they did not own the property surrounding the door.

Building Director Mike Finley said that he “just took a different approach” in figuring out how to provide a second access. After the Mehrabis made it known that they planned to sell the building, some Prineville residents turned up at City Council meetings to say that the city and county needed to find a way to make the theater viable.

Prineville has been without a movie theater since the Pine closed in the early 1980s, and the news earlier this year that it would reopen caused a flurry of excitement in the community.

“Everybody kept focusing on the back door and that wouldn’t work, so I just got tired of getting beat up over the thing,” Finley said. “Then I sat down and got to thinking about it, and come up with an exit corridor and that worked.”

Finley said the department has received the Mehrabis’ application, which he expects to approve within two weeks.

Oniko Mehrabi said they hope to eventually have live entertainment as well as movies.

“We just went on a tour of the Tower (Theatre in Bend) and the people there were so nice,” she said. “Their $4 million that they took, now we know where it went, on the high-tech stuff that they have. We’re not going to be like that – we can’t afford to be.”

But she added that “this has become a very expensive project,” although she declined to say how much the renovation is costing. The Mehrabis are selling commemorative theater seats for $150 each, which will include a mounted, engraved plaque and five movie tickets, according to their Web site. Oniko Mehrabi said they haven’t set their ticket prices yet.

“It’s going to reasonable,” she said. “It’s not going to be, like, $15 a ticket.”

Mayor Mike Wendel said he had been in the process of setting up a meeting with the Mehrabis and the owners of the building next door to them, which blocks the rear exit, when he learned the Building Department had found a solution. The Crook County Building Department covers both the city and county.

“I was really excited to see that they went ahead and got everything taken care of,” Wendel said. “I think it just continues to be a revitalization of downtown … Kids are constantly saying, ‘We want a movie theater,’ and people in the community are saying, ‘We want a movie theater,’ and I think somebody in the community has listened to what they said.”

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