Swan Screen on Path to Repair

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Blue Ridge Mayor Donna Whitener has signed the insurance check required to repair the Swan Theatre screen, City Council Member Michael Eaton told FYN this week. According to Eaton, the $265,000 check has been deposited in the city’s account. However, the contract with Jerry Selby for the work on the screen is still pending. Selby is currently out of town, Eaton said, but will soon return and will then be available to sign the contract for the project. In a February workshop, Eaton presented to the council a contract drafted by City Attorney David Syfan in collaboration with Selby. The contract agrees to pay Selby in installments as the work is completed, avoiding a lump-sum payment arrangement.

The degree of repair to the screen is one of the points of contention of the Swan situation. The entire screen will essentially be replaced, where Selby Products. Inc. will construct a new screen. Initially, it was thought the repairs would more directly address only the damage done to the screen by last spring’s storm.

Also, the mayor’s approval of the insurance claim and signing of the check posed one of the larger stumbling blocks in the process of the screen repair.

When the city first received the check in February, Mayor Whitener expressed reservations about signing the check, due to the proof-of-loss claim. According to public discussion between Whitener and Eaton the claim initially stated the damage to the screen was incurred purely by wind. Whitener asserted repeatedly she was not comfortable with this description. She explained she felt the damage to the screen was not all done by wind and that much of the damage was due to deterioration. Here, Eaton conceded, saying that some of the damage was deterioration. The mayor said she could be liable for anything that came back to her, referring to legal issues that could arise due to, what she felt, were inaccuracies in the proof-of-loss document.

During last month’s council workshop, she explained she had contacted the insurance group and requested a change in verbiage in the proof-of-loss document to reflect that the damage was not only incurred by wind, but by deterioration as well. The insurance company conceded and emailed the mayor a copy of the new verbiage.

The other obstacle is the issue of the lease. The consensus of the council is that a new lease is required, which should include the structures on the land.

“The property does have a valid lease that covers the property for years to come that is in place. Once the new lease is in place, it will cover specifics about the structures,”

Eaton explained in an email to FYN this week, adding,

“it makes sense to me to know what structures are going to be out there before we start addressing those specifics.”

He explained that, as is consistent with all real estate leases, if the lease does not make specific reference to structures on the property, the structures are assumed to be part of the lease contained within the area described, unless specifically stated.

So, when can the Swan expect a new lease?

Elaborating on the process, Eaton said the screen rebuild will take 12 weeks to complete and that the screen will be fabricated off-site and in the last 10 days of the project the structure will be transported to the Swan. In his email, Eaton speculated that during this period a new lease could be passed, but added a timeframe is still uncertain.

Drafting a new lease also demands clearing up another issue: the nursing home.

“A portion of the back row of the drive actually sits on property owned by the nursing home,”

Eaton said. He said the city is currently in the process of acquiring this parcel of land in exchange for clearing up a few issues of the nursing home. Once this is resolved, Eaton explained, the city can move forward with signing a new lease.

Like most drive-in theatres in the U.S., the Swan still runs film, a medium which Eaton says will soon be obsolescent in 2 to 3 years. He emphasized that any digital upgrades to the Swan will be the responsibility of Steve Setser, the operator of the Swan. According to the council member, the cost to go digital is approximately $100,000. The high cost to upgrade, he says, is expected to cause drive-ins to close their doors rather than foot the hefty bill for digital movies. However, he noted the new Swan screen will be constructed with the digital medium in mind.
Presuming Setser will go digital rather than closing his doors, like the other drive-ins in the nation, Eaton said that the Swan as a digital drive-in, will make the Swan even more of a unique landmark.

In light of the mayor signing the check, at this point, the work is expected to move forward with out a new lease.


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