HOULTON — For more than 12 years, Michael Hurley has worked to keep open the Temple Theatre, a 95-year-old cinema that long has been the center of Market Square in Houlton.
His dream, however, has always been for a local proprietor to take over ownership of the cinema.
While that remains his vision, he also recently realized he needed to make another investment in the facility to keep it viable until his long-term goal could be accomplished.
Hurley is in the process of converting the two-screen theater from 35 mm film reels to digitally formatted movies to keep up with the trend set by major motion picture studios, which are phasing out the film reels in favor of the clearer, crisp-sounding digital format.
“We have known that 35 mm was going away for years now,” Hurley said late last week. “It is really difficult to get any current movies in 35 mm now. Everything that is current is digital. We are almost unable to get the latest movies in 35 mm now.”
Hurley lives and works in Belfast, where he and his wife, Therese Bagnardi, also own the three-screen Colonial Theatre.
Before the couple inked a deal in June 2002 to lease the Houlton facility, it had been closed for six months because of lack of business. The Hurleys completely renovated the theater before reopening it five months later.
The couple eventually purchased the building that houses the theater, as well as the adjacent parking lot.
While Michael Hurley has known about the need to transition to digital, he said a major roadblock has prevented him from doing it — the price tag. He said the transition to digital will cost about $100,000, even after he received used digital projectors from the Walt Disney Co.
“We are located in a small town with a low-grossing theater,” he said. “That is a challenge. That isn’t easy to find the money for.”
Hurley opted to get a loan, and he also is hoping to secure a $150,000 Mission Main Street grant from JPMorgan Chase. According to the organization’s website, 20 businesses each year are awarded a grant to help them grow.
The proprietor said moviegoers immediately will notice the difference after the conversion to digital.
“The sound will be incredible,” he said. “That is just one of the differences. It is also a better picture. We hope to have it in by Christmas.”
Even though he is making the investment, Hurley hasn’t strayed from his original plan to sell the building.
“I bought the theater in 2002 at 52 [years old]. Now I am 64,” he said. “We wanted this to be managed by a local owner, and once I get digital equipment in there, I want that to happen. The theater remains for sale.”