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D-MAC goes AWOL 

A flier at Guinevere's coffeehouse listed a Jan. 29 jazz-and-blues event at D-MAC (Downtown Media Arts Center), located directly upstairs. But organizers had to move the event, because there isn't any D-MAC yet. There isn't even any tangible progress toward a D-MAC yet.

At last report `"Thumbs-up to D-MAC and other digital progressions," Oct. 10`, developers were to have the 100-seat movie theater operational by the end of December, a deadline that came and went.

With three institutions investing in the project, delays aren't difficult to understand, given the need to have everything signed off in triplicate. There's arts patron Ford Kiene, who donated the space in the Rogers Building for four years at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Pine Street -- a $640,000 value including property and projected income; there's the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency, which approved economic incentives to the tune of $220,000 over four years; and then there's the University of Central Florida, represented by Sterling Van Wagenen, director of the School of Film and Digital Media. Allocating $750,000 over the four years, UCF wants the space downtown to expand its programs and house a proposed graduate program in film and digital media.

It's almost as challenging to dig up a progress report on the D-MAC as it is to get the kick this deal into play. To date, no permits have been pulled at City Hall for any work on the D-MAC space. Kiene confirms that the blueprints are still somewhere in the planning process.

"Sterling had some challenges with the university and how they have to operate the thing," says Kiene. "They've got a couple of modifications they need to do for the building to meet some other requirements. ... I don't think they'll come across any surprises, because we did that when we renovated a couple of years ago."

"We had to solve some issues with the state fire marshal," says Van Wagenen. "But we have taken possession of the building ... and we're hoping to have it done by the Florida Film Festival `March 5 through 14`." Given the fact that they haven't even started, that target date sounds ambitious. Frank Billingsley, executive director of the Downtown Development Board and the CRA, says that there are plans in the works for a FFF special event to be held there, if not a screening.

The most significant progress is the staff additions. Recently hired to work with Lisa Cook, executive director of D-MAC, are Tracy Yeager, facilities manager, and Jason Neff, program director.

Neff brings credibility to D-MAC, as the solo force behind the former Central Florida Film & Video Festival and the independently produced television program about local film called "Ballyhoo" -- both projects wound down in 2000 and Neff's been low-profile since on the film scene. He will be responsible for booking films and scheduling art/music events at D-MAC, a mix that defined the parties-everywhere style of the CFF&VF.

"Yeah, he's a smart guy. We like him a lot," says Van Wagenen.

Initially, weekend screenings of art-house fare will cost $6. Eventually, organizers hope to ramp up to 16 screenings a week on afternoons and evenings, and serve an estimated 17,000 people a year, according to Billingsley.

Meanwhile, if the venue isn't open by the Florida Film Festival, Billingsley hopes that it will be a part of the Orlando International Fringe Festival, as it spreads out this year with venues in both downtown and Loch Haven Park.

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