Uptown Oxford provides a few places for students looking to do anything other than going to bars. Future Great Comics caters to comic book lovers, and Oxford Originals is tailor-made for aspiring recording artists.
One option is conspicuously absent, though: a movie theater.
Just off the corner of West High Street and North Beech Street sits an otherwise nondescript building of student apartments.
Nondescript apart from the lighted arch streaking along its top.
The passage of time may have concealed the history of this building to many of Miami University’s current students, but Oxford natives know it well: here lies the late Princess Theater.
David Prytherch, professor of geography at Miami and Oxford City Council member, said there’s a sting to Oxford’s loss of the Princess, which closed in 2014.
“The theater had, at times, wonderful management that, if you said you wanted to see a movie they would bring it here,” Prytherch said. “My kids saw their first movies at the Princess; it was a wonderful asset in our community.”
The building first opened in 1911 as the Oxford Theater, becoming the Princess in the 1980s alongside a size expansion.
Elizabeth Mullenix, dean of the College of Creative Arts at Miami and long-time Oxford resident, said having a movie theater in town meant a lot as a parent.
“I thought it was really smart that during the school year they had movies that students would like, but in the summer it was a lot of family movies,” Mullenix said. “My kids would ride their bikes to the Princess and watch movies, we’d go as a family, my husband and I went as a date night, we went all the time.”
In 2012, the Princess’ parent company Alliance Entertainment sold the majority of its properties to Regal Cinemas, excluding the smaller Oxford theater. It was offered as a donation to the city, but city council at the time turned it down.
“There was a golden opportunity for this movie theater to be given to the community, and the city leadership hesitated,” Prytherch said. “When the company that owned the movie theater sold the theater, they shut off the marquee, and all of a sudden everyone knew in town that the Princess was closed.”
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Local property owners quickly honed in on the building. After a bidding war, a private ownership group seized control in late 2013, reopening with promises to make the necessary upgrades for a modern theater experience.
These promises went unfulfilled.
After operating for about a year following its acquisition, a small fire damaged part of the building. The owners proposed a new arrangement: the Princess would become a one-screen theater with student housing on top.
The trade-off was that the century-old building would need to be torn down and replaced.
“The city gave the permission to the property developer, I think on the assumption that a movie theater would come out of the deal,” Prytherch said. “So they enabled the demolition of the theater, which was a tragic mistake.”
Eventually, the property owners decided they were not interested in running a theater themselves, but were open to an outside party coming in to do so.
One major roadblock: the area designated for a theater is a “cold gray shell,” a real estate term referring to a location with essentially no infrastructure necessary for operations. Integrating a theater would cost at least $500,000.
“The city was willing to help raise the capital to help build out the theater,” Prytherch said. “But the landlords instead leased it out to a restaurant because they wanted the money.”
Currently, there is no restaurant at the former Princess’ location.
The death of the Princess weighed heavily on many Oxford residents, but also motivated them to take action, Mullenix said.
“The only time that I have ever been to an Oxford City Council meeting, in my 16 years as a resident, was when I went to speak about not having that movie theater,” Mullenix said.
Mullenix recalled speaking both personally and professionally at the meeting about the Princess’ impact.
“As a mom, my son [was] driving as a teenager to Cincinnati to see the latest ‘Star Wars’ movie, and I have to worry about him on the road,” Mullenix said. “And as a faculty member and administrator at Miami, I feel like it’s a wonderful recruiting opportunity for us, to make sure faculty consider living in Oxford.”
Jenna Burke, a junior strategic communication and arts management major, believes students would appreciate a theater closer to home.
“It’s always a hassle to drive all the way to Hamilton to see a movie, and I feel like it would save a lot of time and gas,” Burke said. “And I think it would do well, because we have a large enough student body that I think it would bring in plenty of revenue.”
Since the Princess’ closure, students have shown a willingness to embrace local businesses that aren’t bars.
Brian Levick, owner of Future Great, said his store has been very successful since opening in Oxford last year.
“It’s a good meeting place for people that have interests in things like this, and there was no outlet for them out here,” Levick said. “I just want to make an impact on Oxford, and continue to have a place where people can go to for years and then bring their kids here when they’ve graduated and gotten older.”
Michaels Burns, a junior operations management and supervision major at Miami and owner of local recording studio Oxford Originals, has seen a similar enthusiasm, even in the limited amount of time since his February opening.
“I just love the culture of music, and I’ve been making instrumental beats on my laptop for a couple years, and I just really wanted some good equipment,” Burns said. “I figured there were probably a lot of other people out there like me at Miami that were kind of doing the same thing, just stuck on a laptop, and there’s a lot more interest in it than I could have ever dreamed.”
Future Great and Oxford Originals cater to students whose wants and needs aren’t otherwise being met. Still, the two businesses don’t quite fill the niche a movie theater would.
Sydney Davidson, a first-year anthropology major at Miami, said having a movie theater in town would make watching films more enjoyable.
“My friends and I already have movie nights, but we have to stream it and sit in a cramped dorm room,” Davidson said. “It’ll make it even better if we can go to a movie theater, get some popcorn, make a whole night out of it.”
Jasmine Owens, a junior anthropology major, expressed similar sentiments.
“I love seeing movies, and it’s something to do,” Owens said. “It’s fun to do in groups, individually, and it would be an alternative to whatever else you can do here, like go out and drink.”
Despite the history and continued interest, there are no current plans to bring an equivalent of the Princess back to Oxford.