Article by: Chris Giesen
In February, ownership of Harmony’s JEM Movie Theatre changed hands. Amber and Dana Coaty, along with their four children are now the proud owners of this Main Street Harmony attraction. One of the only single-screen family-owned movie theaters in the country, the Coaty’s purchased the business from Michelle Haugerud who operated the theater for 14 years with the help of her family.
The future wasn’t always as exciting for the JEM; in 2011, Hollywood’s switch to digital projection almost closed the only theater in Fillmore County for good. When the industry announced that it would be only distributing new films in a digital hard drive format in the near future, it left the Haugeruds in a difficult position. A digital projector would cost upwards of $70,000 to $100,000 and at ticket prices of only a few dollars for adults and one screen, a new digital project wasn’t feasible for the JEM.
CEDA Vice President Chris Giesen, who serves the City of Harmony worked with the Haugeruds to explore several avenues of low-interest loans and grant programs, but nothing would work for this unique situation. After several dead ends with traditional programs, Giesen called Cris Gastner, CEDA Senior Vice President, who had worked with Harmony for several years prior to Giesen, to brainstorm. In the meantime, several local efforts to fundraise for the projector began, including dedicating that year’s 4th of July celebration to the theater effort. Together, Giesen and Gastner started to connect the dots. “Several buckets of money began to appear locally but none of them on their own would make the project work” Giesen said. “We had an offer for a very large donation and no-interest loan from the local community organization the Trust for a Better Harmony, but the group hadn’t been active. Because the Trust wasn’t active, we needed to find an organization to be a conduit for the money. We felt CEDA would be a perfect fit.”
“This was a perfect example of how CEDA is willing to get creative, where others can’t, to get projects done” said CEDA Senior Vice President Cris Gastner.
CEDA took on the role of fiscal agent, which was a 10-year commitment, for the grant and loan from the Trust for a Better Harmony. Ultimately, the JEM found a slightly used digital projector that cost less than one which was brand new and the community donated enough to cover the additional costs and repay the Trust’s loan in full within the first year. CEDA was happy to process the transfer paperwork to make the sale in 2017 to the Coaty’s a seamless transition. The CEDA team and Board of Directors wish all the best to the Coaty’s as they start their business adventure!