Leonard Leadership Scholars look to boost Thomson theater

A group of students connected to Thomson through the Archway Partnership is helping owners of the Thomson Twin Cinema.

Baker Owens | Feb. 14, 2020

For decades, the Thomson Twin Cinema has been a centerpiece of downtown. As the city of Thomson, with the help of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the Archway Partnership from UGA, looks to revitalize downtown Thomson through the Renaissance and Strategic Visioning & Planning Program (RSVP), the owners of the theater are looking to help capitalize on this momentum and continue the long tradition of its central role.

A group of students from the Terry College of Business at UGA was connected to Thomson through the Archway Partnership and has been working for the past year on a research project to help theater owners achieve these goals. The group is part of the Leonard Leadership Scholars program, an honors program in the Terry College, and traveled to Thomson recently for their final presentation.

Aracely Caldera, the team leader for the student group, spoke about what it was like to come into Thomson and work on this important project.

“Although we are not from Thomson and McDuffie County, we were able to see and feel how important the theater is to many people within the community. The theater brings a draw into downtown that many other businesses depend on,” said Caldera. “We’ve also been able to see just how much people have enjoyed going to the theater over the years. It’s a place that holds many memories for everyone who’s ever visited. The theater is an integral part of downtown, and being able to renovate it and structure it in a way that promotes economic vitality would be a success in the RSVP project.”

There are a number of difficulties facing small-town theaters, including the expense of showing first-run movies, changing technology and the relative luxury of larger metropolitan theaters. Many of the theaters the group researched also function as other spaces, such as arts centers for their communities, hosting plays, arts classes and other events.

“The group provided us with a large amount of research, which would have taken us an unimaginable amount of time and money to compile, and arranged it into so many potential concepts,” said Jerod McDowell, co-owner of the theater along with wife Molly McDowell and brother-in-law Dick Dozier. “This framework will allow us to formulate how our theater fits into the long-term revitalization of the City of Thomson, which is being conducted with a partnership with the Georgia Cities Foundation’s Renaissance Strategic Visioning & Planning (RSVP) Program.”

The research for the theater done by the students mainly focused on other theaters across the state and country, in similar-sized cities to Thomson, many of which also view their theaters strategically as a part of a downtown revitalization strategy. McDowell emphasized his gratification for the students’ hard work and how impressed he was with the group.

“From the beginning, these young adults were attentive, absorbing as much information as we would provide, and then churning all of it into fantastic ideas paired with well-refined data. Every member of this team took an active role in helping us to navigate the ever-changing world of entertainment, through plans and designs ranging from Point of Sales systems to methods of generating new revenue streams. This team was so engaged, a large number of them participated in a “Work Day” at the Thomson Twin Cinema, assisting us in painting, cleaning and replacing interior sound management items.”

Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry attended the presentation and was excited about its potential and how it could fit into the larger plan for downtown Thomson. “This is all putting a plan together. It’s not an overnight project, but with private and public efforts, I’m really excited to see what we are putting together,” said Usry.

The Archway Partnership is a unit of Public Service and Outreach at UGA. It connects Georgia communities to the full range of higher education resources available at the university to address critical community-identified needs. Archway started in 2005 and Thomson-McDuffie is one of 13 communities that Archway has served since then.