Seattle Councilmember Lewis proposes partnership to re-open the Cinerama, make theater the center of public cinema in Seattle

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis and SIFF Executive Director Tom Mara inside the Cinerama Theater

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis (District 7 – Pioneer Square to Magnolia) is proposing legislation to partner with SIFF to support the purchase and long-term operating of the Seattle Cinerama Theater. In return for this civic investment SIFF will provide a robust package of benefits to the public.

The legislation, sponsored by Councilmember Lewis, would allow the City of Seattle to provide SIFF a grant to help get the iconic theater reopened and support programming and activations for the public benefit.

This funding is crucial to open the Cinerama to the public in 2023.

How the legislation works

The legislation is an amendment to the City’s supplemental budget and roughly matches the $1 million investment included in the proposed King County supplemental budget proposed by Councilmember McDermott. It takes advantage of windfall admissions tax revenues that came in higher than projected to reinvest that money in Seattle’s cultural entertainment ecosystem.

The public benefit package could include, but is not limited to:

  • Jobs created and maintained, including paid internships, commissioned art on the property, and other workforce development support for the City’s film industry.
  • In-kind goods and services to the community with a focus on racial and social equity, continuing SIFF’s work of hosting film screenings and festivals that center Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) filmmakers, as well as offering educational opportunities to BIPOC youth, such as film passes and summer camps. 
  • Activation and revitalization of the surrounding neighborhood, including partnering with and highlighting other neighborhood businesses in the area.
  • Commitment to preserving the Cinerama as an active operational theater and a regional destination for film enthusiasts.
  • The support of Seattle’s Film economy by elevating and showcasing local filmmakers work

Under the proposal, the grant will be appropriated after the public benefit package is finalized.

“The Cinerama offers the greatest movie-going experience in the entire Pacific Northwest” said Councilmember Lewis. “With the Cinerama in non-profit ownership for the first time in its history, these exciting new partnerships to benefit the entire community are now possible.” 

“SIFF is honored that this space, which has provided a truly powerful experience for filmmakers and film lovers alike, is now in our hands. These funds make it possible for us to open the theater’s doors to the public as soon as possible” said Tom Mara, SIFF Executive Director. “We’re very eager to see the seats full again and to elevate what this space can do for artists, theater-goers, and the city at large.”


SIFF announced that it had acquired the Seattle Cinerama Theater from the estate of Paul G. Allen in May at the opening night screening of its 49th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. The historic theater, which opened in 1963, closed to the public in 2020. SIFF plans to reopen it later this year. The theater will have to be renamed due to trademark licensing.

Councilmember Lewis got a sneak peek inside the theater in June. You can view that tour and listen to his interview with SIFF Executive Director Tom Mara on Councilmember Lewis’ podcast, All Policy is Local.

What’s next

The proposal will be considered as an amendment to the mid-year supplemental budget currently being reviewed by the Finance and Housing Committee. This proposal, along with the entire supplemental budget package, is scheduled to be up for discussion and vote during the next committee meeting on August 2 at 9:30 AM.

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