HOW WE STARTED
Founded by once owners of the Plaza, Jonathan & Gayle Rej, the Plaza Theatre Foundation (PTF) was formed in 2009 as a way to keep the doors open of the struggling theatre. Jonny & Gayle had purchased the theatre from long-time owner, George LeFont after mortgaging their own home to keep the doors open. They knew the unique value that the Plaza meant to the city and that it was irreplaceable. The Plaza had been struggling much like most historic neighborhood theatres trying to compete with the rise of corporately-owned national multiplex chains. In order to meet continued obstacles, Jonny and Gayle form the PTF in order to be able to accept donations and support from members. The risk they took to save one of our community’s treasures inspired others and soon the Plaza became a home again for community programming alongside the classic, cult and independent films the Plaza became known for. The Rej’s plan was eventually that the ownership of the Plaza would transfer from their company to the PTF, but the obstacles grew.
The theatre was continually needing repairs, upgrades and ultimately the forced and costly conversion to Digital Cinema Package technology (DCP) by the major studios meant that the availability of the sole format the Plaza had, 35mm celluloid, was no longer going to be feasible for new releases and even existing films. In 2012, they waived the white flag and that’s when the Atlanta Film Society (ATLFS) stepped in to help and formed a partnership with the Plaza.
Over the next several months, the ATLFS staff worked alongside the Plaza staff and helped booking the films, increasing the marketing reach, made some small but necessary technical improvements, assisted with operations and even made big strides in development. In just a few months, the results of the partnership were taking hold; attendance and revenues were climbing but there were still the challenges of the costly DCP conversion and much needed improvements like replacing the worn seats that needed to be addressed. Luckily the momentum of the recent months caught the attention of businessmen and partners, John Brieger and Michael Furlinger who purchased the theatre in early 2013 and had the much needed capital and experience to make improvements.
Since the purchase of The Plaza by Michael & John, the theatre has seen several drastic transformations including new seats, curtains, carpeting, furniture, lighting, screens, sound technology and the costly DCP conversion. With all the improvements, attendance was up and climbing but there were still challenges. So the PTF was revitalized with a rebuilt board of directors in order for the community to have a formal role in supporting, restoring and sharing the theatre. It would be able to seek out grants and funding (such as holding the theatre’s first year-round liquor license) in order to take on projects that would restore the building’s historical features such as the marquee, projects that would improve the usability and accessibility of the theatre as well be able to host programming that benefits the community.
Today, the Plaza Theatre Foundation is administered by the Atlanta Film Society for the PTF’s Board of Directors on behalf of the community. This partnership between the Plaza, PTF and ATLFS allows all three entities to work together and make the Plaza’s future a brighter and more sustainable one.