How to steal a movie & a theater to show it


For the past several years, I have regularly excoriated Reno mayor Jeff Griffin for his uncontrollable CEO ego. It started on KUNR radio during his election campaign when Griffin referred to homeless people as "human debris." When no one challenged such a bigoted and intolerant statement, I called in and chewed his ass.

For dictatorial corporate chiefs, morality and legality just get in the way of quick action. Griffin has wilfully participated in bending, if not breaking, Nevada's open meeting law. Because of secret, less-than-quorum serial meetings, the voters rightly sensed some subrosa skulduggery in the OliverMcMillan downtown redevelopment deal. The winner was announced before competing presentations were made. One bidder was even advised not to show up.

The OliverMcMillan outfit got the city's choicest river frontage and multi-millions on top without competitive bids. The great unwashed did get invited to some sham input sessions last week, the equivalent of suggesting carpet colors for a home bought site unseen. Griffin nonetheless thinks the process has been fair. "I think that we've been very open," he told KOLO TV-8's Sam Shad on October 4.

"We created a task force for design guidelines that said here's what the setbacks have to be along the river, here's how tall the buildings can be," Griffin said. Worthless work. Turns out that OM's deal with Regal Theaters gives the movie exhibitor full and final say over riverfront design. They can leave a dark alley if they want. The council never bothered to inquire before its rah-rah 6-1 vote. (Only Judy Herman voted nay.)

The mayor may be temperamentally unsuited for office, but once in awhile, Griffin's business acumen surfaces and we are well served. When Mr. Shad asked if the whole package represents a good deal for the citizens, Griffin told the brutal truth.

"Well, I'm a business person, so I will say right out of the chute that this is not, as a business deal, a good deal. No question, I have never portrayed this as a good business deal," the mayor said. "Keeping in mind that redevelopment never generally makes economic sense, but within the guidelines of economic development projects, does this make sense? The answer is 'yes,'" he added in unintended testament to the curious moral obtuseness of conservative officialdom when it's merely public money pissed away.

"I personally am a conservative businessman. I think the role of government is extremely limited," he meandered. "In terms of what we are doing here, we are being limited," he added.

Right. They are limiting themselves to not only giving away the store, but all of its cash flow for the foreseeable future. What a businessman.

He also made a shocking revelation. Contrary to previous public statements, the city did research the market feasibility of more movie theaters. Prior to this, the only known current survey was done by Regal Theaters which refused to give it to the council.

"As part of our due diligence, we did a market survey," Griffin said. "There's a market in Reno and Sparks - forget about Carson and so forth - for around 34 screens. That's about what's on the drawing board and what's going to actually be built."

Zounds. Even allowing for demolition of the existing old Century 11-screen complex on S. Virginia St., 59 screens will soon serve Washoe County with another couple dozen planned.

No wonder Regal refused to reveal its research. It would show an oversaturated market. So why would two big, fat rich companies like Syufy/Century and Regal invest in Reno and Sparks? Because the theaters are a meaningless part of the equation, the gambling district equivalent of storage buildings.

Real estate speculators frequently buy land in growing areas and build storage sheds. The rentals provide income until they can sell and turn a fat profit on value appreciation. Whether or not the business made money is not an issue. An operating loss just means tax benefits. Buying low and selling high is the name of the game.

Both Regal and Syufy/Century have acquired choice dirt, cheap. They will run storage, theaters, for a few years, all the while looking for opportunities to turn the property at a profit. Nothing else makes sense. Syufy's deal with Sparks says it must operate theaters for only five years.

Out-of-state business moguls have once again taken the hicks for a ride, obtaining huge public subsidies and title to choice property at far below true value.

We should thank Mayor Griffin for his honesty. When engaged by Mr. Shad in a thoughtful discussion, the no-nonsense businessman came through. Griffin knows redevelopment is lousy business deal for the city and said so.

The current Reno council, like its predecessors, does goofy things for no good reason. It is bickering and divided, usually unable to make up its mind—just like its constituents. The operative management philosophy under Griffin is "do something, even if it's wrong."

The least our councilcritters should do is perpetuate the fiction of listening before acting, suffering many idiots because you represent them, too. Running for and serving in office tends to make some people more tolerant. Perhaps the brusque business mogul-mayor will leave more mellow than when he came. His honest disclosure to Mr. Shad gives hope. [Editor's note: Read Griffin five years down the road. It appears this was a one-time-only flirtation with the truth.]

MEDIA BLACKOUT DEPT. Nevada PBS TV stations have yet to schedule "Fear & Favor in the Newsroom." I suggest those having video dishes simply steal it off the bird next Sunday, Nov. 9, 7:00-8:00 p.m. EST. Check schedule 586 on the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA) satellite. Run dubs so your friends can see how corporations and governments doctor the news. If you want the producers to get a fair return, send donations.

Narrated by Pulitzer Prize winner Studs Terkel, the show tells how corporate and government influence keep you blissfully in the dark. If information is power, this show demonstrates how increasingly powerless the undermonied are becoming.

Corporate media uniformly kept unsavory video of dead women and children off the air in order to properly promote the Gulf War. We didn't want to believe pro-life George Bush, compliant Gen. Powell and huggy bear Stormin' Norman were really baby killers, did we? The media saw how pro-war euphoria boosted ratings and thus participated in perpetrating the fiction. There was no pro-war point of view during 1991, remember? The media presented only two sides: anti-war or support-the-troops.

I was the best kind of supporter of the troops—I didn't want them to go to war.

Fear & Favoritism reveals how the PBS Jim Lehrer News Hour censored a report about Nevada and California nuke dumping. It demonstrates how powerful the nuclear utility industry and the government can be when suppressing negative nuclear news, even at the New York Times.

It tells how news of Guatemalan labor unrest never made U.S. TV. Producer Allan Nairn says "In all there were more than a dozen American firms where workers attempting to organize unions were assassinated. At the Coca-cola plant more than a dozen workers were assassinated."

Prestigious reporter and editor Sydney Schanberg of "The Killing Fields" fame was fired from the New York Times for writing a column on local corruption. He later became one of a few courageous reporters who sued to break the Pentagon's total control of Gulf War news. No major media reported on the suit, let alone joined it.

In a segment reminiscent of several Nevada scandals, Fear & Favoritism tells of San Jose car dealers successfully pressuring the San Jose Mercury News. No wonder this show took an act of God to produce. Local PBS stations just don't want to piss off potential corporate donors.

Let PBS program directors know you want the awful truth. E-mail for northern Nevada or for southern Nevada. You may call them, respectively, at (775) 784-4555 or (520) 299-1866. You can preview audio and video at

Be well. Raise hell.

© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano, a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 29-year Nevadan, is editor of U-News.

Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988.

Reprints of the UNR financial scandal newsbreaks remain available for the cost of copying at
Nevada Instant Type in Sparks and both Office Depot Reno locations.