Multi-purpose movie house will open next year

By Don Nelson

Roll credits? Not quite yet, but The Barnyard — an independent cinema that will offer movies and much more — is now in full production and on track for an opening night about a year from now.

Construction of The Barnyard started recently on a 2-acre lot across from East 20 Pizza on Highway 20 in Winthrop. The groundbreaking was the culmination of an idea that became a concept that will soon become a reality for the cinema’s partners, three Mazama-area couples. Original business partners Robert and Sally Gatlin and Steve and Genevieve Cole were recently joined in the venture by Kirk and Jennifer Schumacher.

Genevieve Cole said in an interview last week that the partners recently completed financing for the project, which was more than a year in development. Blackcap Builders Collective is building the theater from a design by Barb Preston of Pinto Design in Mazama. The construction goal is to have the roof up by this winter with an opening next summer in mind, Cole said.

The building will in fact resemble a barn, and will comply with Westernization code requirements set by the town of Winthrop — which means it will look like it dates to the late 1800s or early 1900s.

It will be more modern inside, with a combination of modular and fixed seating, a balcony, a small bar, a game room, picture windows facing toward the Sawtooths and an outdoor deck, as well as a bocce ball court and fire pit. The building will be able to accommodate a variety of meetings and activities for all ages, but will be “a cinema first and foremost,” Cole said.

Epiphany over pizza

Cole said that when she and her husband moved to the valley with their family, they only intended to stay a couple of years. When the move became more permanent, she said, “We had to have a reckoning about what was missing in our lives. Movies were the No. 1 thing.”

One day they were eating pizza at East 20, looked across the road at an empty lot and decided it would make a great spot for a theater. But the Coles didn’t want to go it alone, and interested the Gatlins in the project. “It just started rolling and kept going,” Cole said. Initial plans for the theater were announced in July 2015, after the partners bought the lot.

Arranging a financing loan took longer than anticipated, Cole said, but was eventually arranged with Peoples Bank in Wenatchee through the Small Business Administration.

Even with financing in place, the partners know they face a challenge in making The Barnyard a permanent fixture in the valley’s entertainment offerings. “It’s a huge risk, there’s no way around it,” Cole said. “We’re diving in head first. It was really a leap of faith on everyone’s part.”

Business projections for The Barnyard were based more on local usage than tourist visits, Cole said. “We’re putting this together based on what we know about the community,” she said.

Cole said the partners recently attended Art House Convergence, a gathering of independent theater owners, at the Sundance Institute in Utah. Most independent cinemas are membership-based, Cole said, and The Barnyard’s owners may consider that route. Film festivals are a possible part of The Barnyard’s offerings as well — perhaps modeled after the hugely successful Seattle Independent Film Festival.

Cole would like to tie some of the theater’s programming into the local school curriculum as well.

Welcoming place

The name came from the original concept that like a barnyard, the theater will be “a place where all different kinds of animals can congregate,” said Cole in a 2015 interview. They plan to screen mostly independent films produced outside the major film studios and are taking some of their inspiration from other art-house-type cinemas in the Northwest, like The Rose Theater and its Starlight Room in Port Townsend, and the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham, Cole said in that interview.

“It will offer a reprieve from day-to-day life,” Cole said last week. “We want to create a welcoming place.”

Cole said local residents have expressed “constant curiosity” about the project and the partners are glad to be able to provide more details now. “People are excited about it,” she said.

“We’re all hard-working people and committed to bringing it to life,” Cole said. “Taking it from idea to reality is an amazing process.”