Hank Garcia, we’ve never met before—I hope that changes in the near future—but I want you to know you’ve had a massive impact on my life. You helped me see new worlds. You helped me learn English. You helped me fall in love with storytelling.

I grew up just a couple blocks away from your Fox Theater. The walk from Rodriguez Street to the corner of Main and Maple was the highlight of my week. I didn’t have much money when I was a kid—my parents, both blue-collar workers, were saving up cash to move out of my grandparents’ house—but I had enough to take a trip to Middle Earth, swing around with Spider-Man, survive on a deserted island with Tom Hanks and Wilson, and  learn that “attitude reflect leadership, captain.”

Sadly, kids growing up in that area today—and for the last 10 years—don’t have that experience anymore.

This is why I’m asking you to please reopen the Fox Theater. 

Tonight, dozens of Watsonville residents will descend on Watsonville’s City Plaza to celebrate Día de Los Muertos and watch Disney-Pixar’s award-winning film “Coco.” Consuelo Alba and the rest of the folks at the Watsonville Film Festival are putting on the event with help from other organizations. I’m sure they’ll do a great job, but I wish that those kids that will be sitting in lawn chairs and blankets, were instead sitting in a beautiful, inspiring piece of history.

The truth is, there are not many places left in Watsonville that inspire creativity for both old and young. I’d say the Watsonville Public Library is one and the City Plaza—especially during the Friday Farmers’ Market—is another. There are also a handful of murals throughout the city that get the creative juices flowing, but we need more. 

There is so much history and culture in this city, but outsiders looking in see a different story: a hollowed downtown with untapped potential. What they should see is a vibrant gathering place that tells the stories of the past, perspective of the present and hopes for the future.

You have the power to create that.

In the near future we will have a crop of local filmmakers looking for a place to showcase their art. For the last three years the Pajaro Valley Unified School District has worked with the Latino Film Institute’s Youth Cinema Project to teach its students the ins-and-outs of filmmaking.

Earlier this year, the district and the Watsonville Film Festival had an Oscar Night in which they honored 14 short films from students in the program. This event took place at E.A. Hall Middle School. I can only imagine the type of impact it would have had on the students if the Fox Theater had rolled out the red carpet and thrown their creations on its giant silver screen.

Actor, director, producer and activist Edward James Olmos—the founder of YCP—was in Watsonville not to long ago to pump up the program. I think his famous line from “Stand and Deliver” applies here: “students will rise to the level of expectations…Ganas, that’s all we need.”

If appealing to your heart doesn’t do much, let me appeal to your wallet. Watsonville’s downtown is on the rise. I’m sure you know this. In a few weeks your very building will welcome the Slice Project, the much-anticipated, family-owned pizza shop that is sure to be a hit with its NY-inspired slices, Detroit-style squares and craft beer.

A couple blocks down The Terrace and The Residence—two ritzy, mixed-use apartment complexes—are going to bring deeper pockets into the corridor. The Ow family’s recent purchase of a City parking lot could mean another giant mixed-used development is in the works. And the two City plans currently in development (the Downtown Complete Streets Plan and Downtown Specific Plan) could also spur economic vitality in the area.

I’ve read the headlines. Theaters are dying. The end is near for cinema. Netflix and other streaming services are taking over. I say phooey. Theaters—like all businesses—die when they don’t take advantage of the resources around them and listen to their customers.

As Toronto International Film Festival co-head Cameron Bailey told IndieWire, “Now’s a good time to pay more attention to each person watching. What motivates them, what rewards the time they spend with us? Big streaming companies can do that with data. Those of us running festivals or independent cinemas need to use both data and a more personal touch.”

I understand the building most likely needs major upgrades. I understand that running a theater, let alone two, is very tough. But I’m a strong believer that the Fox can succeed in today’s downtown if it capitalizes on what makes Watsonville great: its community. When the people of Watsonville want something to succeed, it will succeed. Maybe the theater needs to go the way of an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a popular, niche chain known for its in-house restaurant and bars. Or maybe it needs to become a nonprofit as the Osio—my favorite theater in the area—did in Monterey.

If you reopen the Fox, I give you my word that you will have my support. If you continue to be a for-profit theater, I will be there at least once a week for the foreseeable future. If you choose to be a nonprofit, I will be one of your first monetary sponsors and I expect local leaders—council members, county supervisors, CEOs, the city manager—to join me. 

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Contact Managing Editor Tony Nuñez at [email protected] or 761-7353.

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