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Editorial, Westfield- Feb. 20 1997

New Life for Rialto Proves Local Residents Can Make a Difference

The announcement last week that the Rialto Theatre, a Westfield landmark since 1922, has been sold and will remain a movie house, has proved that residents can make a difference.

The Rialto, located at the corner of East Broad Street and Central Avenue, is considered a staple in the economy of Westfield’s downtown which has changed largely from retail (there are no men’s clothing stores in town) to entertainment, i.e., restaurants and coffeehouses.

Shortly after press accounts, including those in The Westfield Leader, revealed that United Artists was looking to sell the popular movie house to a Long Island developer who would turn it into retail, a group of citizens created the "Save the Rialto" volunteer organization. Although the group had nothing to do with bringing CJM Entertainment into town to purchase the theater, its actions made developer Herman "Hy" Carlinsky rethink his actions of getting easy approval for a retail establishment at the site.

The new owner, Jesse Sayegh, who heads the Cedar Grove-based CJM Entertainment, owns theaters in Linden, Cedar Grove and Ocean Township. He also recently acquired the Montclair-based Bellevue Theatre. Interestingly, Mr. Carlinsky’s firm, Armstrong Management Corporation, also had been interested in that theater, as well.

Mr. Sayegh has said he wants to split the upstairs theater into two screens, thus creating four screens, two on each floor. Currently the theater has two screens downstairs and one upstairs.

The "Save the Rialto" group wrote letters to The Gap’s headquarters in San Francisco in an effort to steer off its interest in opening a Banana Republic store at the site. The Gap decided not to move forward with their proposal.

Through the persistent efforts of the volunteer committee, organized through Westfield MainStreet, the Rialto has been saved, at least for now.

With upgrades in the sound system and fiscal appearance (both interior and exterior) we believe the theater can still be a viable business despite the competition it faces from the Sony 10-Plex on Route No. 22, East, Mountainside. Local theaters like the Rialto and the Bellevue serve a purpose: They provide a convenience for local residents, and stimulate the local economy by providing business for the many restaurants and coffeehouses located nearby.

The new Rialto owner has promised to continue to show films geared to the whole family while adding foreign films into the mix to attract an even greater audience.

It is also important to keep the theater so as to maintain alternate-time use businesses in the downtown, according to a past study of downtown development. This helps to alleviate traffic jams and parking woes at peak hours during the day.

The "Save the Rialto" movement, which has drawn groups of children from Westfield’s schools over the past few months in support of the theater, has helped keep families in town rather than shifting this business out to the highway. Their fight follows a similar one by Westfield residents and surrounding towns in the early 1980s to fight the development of a mall on Route No. 22 on property located on the Westfield/Springfield border.

We wish Mr. Sayegh the best of luck and success as he assumes command of the Rialto. We encourage Westfield residents to show their support by viewing flicks at Westfield’s last movie house. After all, a few months ago it appeared the theater’s future was doomed.

Editorial, Scotch Plains - Feb. 20, 1997

We Anxiously Await Final Numbers On Municipal, School, County Budgets

In the next few weeks municipal governments of the communities covered by The Westfield Leader and The Times of Scotch Plains and Fanwood, will be unveiling their budgets. This is the first piece of the local property tax and is the smallest of the three sections in the tax bills. The school budgets, which will go before voters in April, and the Union County spending plan are the other parts of the property tax.

School budgets will be unveiled in the coming weeks while Union County Freeholder Finance Committee Chairman, Walter D. McNeil, Jr., said he hopes to have the county budget adopted by the end of March. Westfield’s governing body is expected to introduce its municipal spending plan in March with adoption set for April. The final version of the Scotch Plains municipal spending plan is expected to be in the hands of the Township Council by mid-March for introduction.

The Westfield budget, currently being reviewed by the Town Council, shows a hike of $667,000 over last year’s spending plan. The current Scotch Plains’ budget, being reviewed by the council, is $538,000 or 3.63 percent over last year. The amount to be raised through Westfield and Scotch Pains taxes still is being reviewed by local officials.

The Fanwood Borough Council introduced a $5,512,787.41 spending plan last week, a $211,256 or 3.98 percent increase over the 1996 budget. The budget shows no tax increase over last year, the first time in recent memory that the governing body has been able to accomplish that feat.

Union County Manager Ann M. Baran unveiled an executive budget of $276.5 million in January. The budget, which has been turned over to the Finance Committee, contains no increase in the overall tax levy. The Democratic majority has indicated they would like to see the county budget lowered even further.

In addition to the local budgets, the Westfield Board of Education is proposing to put a referendum for some $5 million before voters in September for technology improvements throughout the school system. The referendum is expected to go before voters in October.

Also, Westfield downtown property owners and merchants will see an added tax as a result of the newly-created Special Improvement District. The SID board unveiled a $226,000 spending plan last week.

As the numbers are revealed by local officials they will be reported in this newspaper. At present it appears Westfield will see the biggest increase, although it is hard to discuss the actual impact until the local budgets are introduced.

We encourage local officials to hold the line as much as possible by trying to avoid any significant increases. Hopefully this can be done by maintaining the current level of municipal services in Westfield, Scotch Plains and Fanwood.

We look forward to seeing the final numbers as they are released by our local officials after the countless number of hours they have spent sifting through financial data.

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08/06/97.

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