The outdoor movie series that has brought families to Riverfront Park on sweltering summer Spokane nights won’t be back for 2019, the Seattle-based company that produced the shows announced this week.
The decision was made by Epic Events, the company that has organized the shows since 2013, according to the city. Park planners are looking to see if there’s money available to bring a similar event to the downtown park this summer.
“We are looking at maybe doing something, not the same, but similar to fill that void,” said Amy Lindsey, programming and marketing manager for Riverfront Park.
Moviegoers had been plopping down $5 to see movies that had completed their theatrical run, but were geared toward families looking for a night out. Last summer’s offerings included the Marvel film “Black Panther,” the 1987 family comedy “The Princess Bride” and Disney/Pixar’s animated feature “Coco.”
The events had been held in the Lilac Bowl, which has remained largely untouched despite extensive renovations and rebuilding throughout Riverfront Park as part of a $64 million bond project. That work is slated for conclusion next year.
Some fencing had been installed around the U.S. Pavilion last summer that affected planning, said Doug Borneman, president and producer at Epic. That was part of the decision to “take a year off” from holding the events in Spokane this summer, as well as extensive travel from Western Washington.
“We’re a small company, and we come from the West Side,” Borneman said. “It’s a big endeavor for us to put it on.”
Epic Events holds similar events in Seattle, Bellingham and Redmond, according to their website. Borneman said there are no plans to cancel any of their shows in those cities this summer, and that there continued to be sponsor interest for holding the event in Spokane.
It’s not the first time Epic Events has canceled an outdoor showing. In 2017, the company ended a run of shows at Magnuson Park in Seattle, citing public safety concerns after a pair of teenagers reported robberies during events, according to a report in the Seattle Times.
The Spokane Parks Department has contracted with Epic Events to show six to eight films during the summer months in the park in the past, according to city records. In 2016, Epic Events paid the city $1,800 to show six films, and had in recent years partnered with BECU and local radio stations to sponsor the event.
Bethany Hawley, senior manager of public relations for the credit union BECU, said in an email they were informed of Epic Event’s decision to end the series and that the firm enjoyed being a sponsor. She referred questions to Borneman.
Borneman said in an email Friday that the movies in summer 2018 averaged about 1,000 attendees each. A post on Facebook on Thursday announcing the cancellation of the events in 2019 drew ire from past attendees, many of whom tied their displeasure to other construction in the park.
“It was always packed, it was a real popular event,” said Cheri Heath, a longtime Spokane resident who said she attended every showing at Riverfront Park with her two autistic sons, ages 28 and 30. “And it was gaining steam. People were just finding out about it who didn’t know about it.”
Heath was part of a group that lobbied to keep the amusement rides in Riverfront Park and said she was disappointed with the path forward on the new U.S. Pavilion.
Ted McGregor, chair of the Spokane Park Board’s committee overseeing redevelopment of the park, said he hadn’t heard about the cancellation before it was shared with the public. McGregor, who publishes the Inlander and puts on public showings of films under the “Suds and Cinema” brand name through the weekly newspaper, said he hoped a local company might take up the mantle, especially in time for the opening of the new U.S. Pavilion for next summer.
“Hopefully we’re back in business a little bit more next year,” McGregor said.
The end of the Riverfront Park films doesn’t mean outdoor movies will be gone completely from Spokane this summer. Organizers still plan a series of free movies to be held at Shadle Park beginning Saturday, May 25, and the Spokane County aquatic centers will show movies three nights this summer that will include free swimming.
Borneman left open the possibility of returning to Spokane after 2019 for more outdoor movies.
“We may look at 2020,” he said. “We’ve loved it. It’s been a great series.”
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