BOISE — A bill to let historic theaters across the state, like Boise’s Egyptian Theatre, serve beer and wine cleared the House State Affairs Committee on Monday with just two dissenting votes.
HB 157, sponsored by House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, would allow theaters that were both built before 1950 and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places to serve beer and wine without having to follow the same design regulations as newer theaters. The committee sent it to the full House with a “do-pass” recommendation.
Because of their historic value, many older theaters can’t change the internal structure of the theater to meet the current law’s requirements.
Current law, Erpelding said, is vague — some historic theaters can already serve beer and wine at specific events with a license, but not others.
“The definition is if there’s an intermission in the middle and they do a raffle, but then on both sides they’re showing short films of five minutes to 15 minutes, you can have a beer and wine license for that, and you can have a beer and wine license for a concert, but you can’t have a license for, like, an old movie,” Erpelding said.
Historic theaters typically aren’t limited to movies; they exhibit live events, film festivals, concerts and plays.
There are 13 historic theaters across the state that could potentially meet both qualifications, including the Egyptian, the Panida Theater in Sandpoint and the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre in Moscow.
“They historically were in areas of the state that were booming in the 1940s,” Erpelding said. “They have very distinctive construction, they have a very distinctive architecture type and they bring historic value to the communities that they are in.”
Of those 13 theaters, only five are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The register is what Erpelding calls an “honorary designation.”
“It adds a little bit more value that says we value the historic significance of this theater and are unlikely to make any substantive changes to its architecture and infrastructure,” Erpelding said.
In order to be placed on the register, a theater must meet certain criteria. For example, it must embody the distinctive characteristic of a time period or method of construction. Most theaters built before 1950 could meet that criteria, according to Erpelding.
The bill is specifically limited to theaters built before 1950 to ensure newer theaters without historic value don’t try to get on the National Register of Historic Places simply for the purpose of serving beer and wine.
To become law, the bill must still pass the House and the Senate, and receive the governor’s signature.
Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, and Rep. Kevin Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, were the only dissenting votes.
“I can appreciate trying to clear up this situation that does seem rather confusing,” Armstrong said. But, he said, “I have had numerous people come to me this session and every one that talked about alcohol bills, we’re all trying to figure out more ways to introduce alcohol to the citizens of Idaho, and I ultimately don’t think that’s in the best good for our society, our culture.”