The Regal Cinema may be forced to close its doors again

THE Regal Cinema at Birmingham Gardens will close its doors permanently if a City of Newcastle plan that proposes to reduce car parks near the cinema goes ahead. 

Under the Birmingham Gardens Village Centre Draft Domain and Traffic Plan car parks adjacent to the cinema will be reduced from 38 to 17.

The plan also proposes the beautification of the area, including additional greenery, a cycling path, pram-way, picnic bench and a bus shelter. 

“The council has always been supportive of the Regal,” cinema operator George Merryman said. “This proposal was an outgrowth of the fact they were so proud of the Regal.

“The Regal shouldn’t be the success that it is, an yet it is a remarkable thing. Council noticed that and they wanted to create this development to beautify the area that had a heritage cinema at its centre.

“They only missed one little thing, everything else was great, the design omitted a number of necessary car parks to keep the cinema viable.” 

The draft plan opened to public comment in June and cinema patrons were quick to respond. Mr Merryman claims more than 2000 emails crashed the council inbox. 

However, “ the troubling thing is the recommendation that would reduce the car parks to 17 has not changed”, Mr Merryman said. 

If the development goes ahead, with the loss of car parks, the cinema will be forced to close.

“This is quite serious … it sickens me to say the Regal will close again,” Mr Merryman said. 

If the plan doesn't change, the final film will be screened on December 23. 

The council will vote on the proposed development at the next council meeting on September 25, at 5.30pm. 

“People should really come along to the vote,” Mr Merryman said. “Council needs to bear in mind the community wants this cinema. 

“It’s an amazing place, such an inclusive place and I don’t know of anything like it.” 

Mr Merryman said the cinema’s patrons, some from the Central Coast, arrived by car and public transport to the cinema was not “at the level you would like”  

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Ladies in Black

Bruce Beresford’s latest film Ladies in Black premiered this month. However, the film was test screened at the Regal. 

“He (Bruce Beresford) is a real friend of the Regal. He wanted to get some feedback before they did the final touches,” Mr Merryman said. “He said the screening was the best screening for what he needed.

“The Regal audience helped shape what is going to be the next great Australian film.”

Now Bryan Brown has been in touch with the cinema.

“Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward have made a new film and they want to come and test screen it at the Regal,” Mr Merryman said.

“It has it’s heart at home, we are a local cinema, but it has a reach and you can feel that.

“This is a destination, when people have friends visiting from out of town or overseas, it’s one of those ‘you have to go to’ spots when you come to Newcastle. 

“It’s not just what we are now, but what the cinema could become. It could become a test capital for the film industry. 

“It’s that important that it be saved, not just for the community, but there is also a broader body that can benefit.”

First closure

IN 2006 The Regal Cinema was forced to close its doors after the building was declared unsafe. 

A public campaign to save the property, earmarked for sale, and a working party of community members, council and film representatives was launched. 

The council formed a working party to explore ways to save the cinema. 

The battle to save the Regal drew national attention and was featured on the ABC’s 7.30 Report, after George Miller, director of Mad Max, donated a state-of-the-art projector and surround sound system. 

The council gifted the building to the Regal trust and February 2014 it re-opened.

Since that time it has been operated by George Merryman and Jo Smith. The couple have year’s of film industry experience between them.