Uptown Oxford offers a few places for students looking to do more than hit the bars. Future Great Comics is aimed at comic book lovers and Oxford Originals is tailor-made for aspiring recording artists.
One option, however, is conspicuously absent: a movie theatre.
Just off the corner of West High Street and North Beech Street is an otherwise indescribable block of student flats.
Indefinable apart from the lighted arch that streaks along its top.
The passage of time may have hidden the history of this building from many current University of Miami students, but Oxford natives know it well: here lies the defunct Princess Theater.
David Prytherch, a Miami geography professor and member of Oxford City Council, said there was a sting at the loss of the Princess of Oxford, which closed in 2014.
“The theater had, sometimes, wonderful management that if you said you wanted to see a movie, they would bring it here,” Prytherch said. “My children saw their first films at the Princess; he was a tremendous asset in our community.
The building opened in 1911 as the Oxford Theatre, becoming the Princess in the 1980s alongside a major expansion.
Elizabeth Mullenix, dean of Miami’s College of Creative Arts and a longtime Oxford resident, said having a cinema in town meant a lot as a parent.
“I thought it was really smart that during the school year they had movies that the 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 would go as a family, my husband and I would go in the evenings, we would go there all the time.”
In 2012, Princess’ parent company, Alliance Entertainment sold the majority of its properties to Regal Cinemas, excluding the smaller theater in Oxford. It was donated to the city, but the city council at the time turned it down.
“There was a golden opportunity for this theater to be offered to the community, and the city leaders balked,” Prytherch said. “When the company that owned the cinema sold the theater they closed the marquee and all of a sudden everyone in town knew the Princess was closed.”
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The local owners quickly became familiar with the building. After a bidding war, a privately owned group took control in late 2013, reopening with the promise of making the improvements needed for a modern theater experience.
These promises have not been kept.
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 single-screen theater with additional student accommodation.
The compromise was that the century-old building would have to be demolished and replaced.
“The city gave the developer permission, I think assuming a movie theater would come out of the deal,” Prytherch said. “So they allowed the theater to be demolished, which was a tragic mistake.”
Eventually, the owners decided they weren’t interested in running a theater themselves, but were open to having a third party come along.
A 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 needed for operations. Integrating a theater would cost at least $500,000.
“The city was willing to help raise capital to help build the theater,” Prytherch said. “But the owners rented it out to a restaurant instead because they wanted the money.”
Currently, there is no restaurant at the location of the former princess.
The princess’s death weighed heavily on many Oxford residents, but also motivated them to act, Mullenix said.
“The only time I’ve attended an Oxford City Council meeting, in my 16 years as a resident, was when I went to talk about not having this cinema,” Mullenix said.
Mullenix recalls speaking both personally and professionally at the meeting about the Princess’ impact.
“As a mother, my son [was] when I was a teenager, I was driving 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 in Miami, I think this is a wonderful recruiting opportunity for us, to make sure that faculty consider living in Oxford.”
Jenna Burke, a junior student in strategic communications and arts management, thinks students would appreciate a theater closer to home.
“It’s always a hassle driving to Hamilton to see a movie, and I feel like it would save a lot of time and gas,” Burke said. “And I think that would work well, because we have a large enough student body that I think that would bring in a lot of revenue.”
Since the Princess closed, students have shown a willingness to embrace local businesses that aren’t bars.
Brian Levick, owner of Future Great, said his store had enjoyed great success since opening in Oxford last year.
“It’s a good meeting place for people who have interests in things like that, and there was no outlet for them here,” Levick said. “I just want to impact Oxford and continue to have a place where people can go for years and then bring their kids here when they graduate and get older.”
Michaels Burns, an operations management and supervisory junior in Miami and owner of local recording studio Oxford Originals, has experienced similar enthusiasm, even in the limited time since it opened in February.
“I love music culture, and I’ve been making instrumental beats on my laptop for a few years, and I really wanted some good gear,” Burns said. “I thought there were probably a lot of other people like me in Miami doing kind of the same thing, just stuck on a laptop, and there’s a lot more interest than I would ever have. could dream.”
Future Great and Oxford Originals cater to students whose wants and needs are not otherwise met. Still, the two companies don’t quite fill the niche of a cinema.
Sydney Davidson, a freshman anthropology student in Miami, said having a movie theater in town would make watching movies more enjoyable.
“My friends and I already have movie nights, but we have to stream them and sit in a cramped dorm room,” Davidson said. “It’ll be even better if we can go to the movies, have some popcorn, make it all night.”
Jasmine Owens, a junior anthropology student, expressed similar sentiments.
“I love seeing movies, and it’s something to do,” Owens said. “It’s fun to do in a group, individually, and would be an alternative to anything you can do here, like hang out and drink.”
Despite the story and continued interest, there are no current plans to bring an equivalent of the Princess back to Oxford.