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Rivoli to undergo multi-phase renovation, expansion to five screens
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T he company that owns and operates the Rivoli 3 Theatre in Hastings has plans to renovate its longtime downtown complex and expand the theater from three screens to five.

Russell Vannorsdel, president of Fridley Theatres, said in an interview Jan. 12 that the project, estimated to cost at least $1 million, has been several years in the making.

“Prior to the pandemic there were numerous projects we were planning on moving forward with, and Hastings was one of those,” he said. “Unfortunately, the pandemic put us on a halt on all projects just because we were trying to figure out if the movie theater industry was going to recover and if a company that’s been around for so long was going to continue to be around.”

Company founder Bob Fridley bought his first theater in 1942.

Of the 18 Fridley theaters, 17 are in Iowa. Corporate headquarters are in Des Moines.

At points during the pandemic, Fridley revenues were down by 80%-90%, month after month. With increased business as well as the announcement that the former Imperial 3 Theatre would be renovated and reopened, Vannorsdel said, Fridley leadership believed it’s the right time to move forward with the Rivoli renovation project.

He was familiar with the Theatre District project on the west side of Hastings that includes the former Imperial 3 Theatre, but was surprised when the news release came out about the former Imperial 3 Theatre’s three screens returning to use.

“As soon as we had heard the news, I collected the board together and said, ‘Hey, we need to expedite our plans,’ ” he said.

Phase 1 of the project will include an extensive lobby renovation. The box office will be moved, and the concession stand will be redesigned and replaced.

In the new, expanded concession area, the company plans to offer additional food options such as chicken tenders, jalapeño poppers, personal pizzas and burgers.

Its staple items, like popcorn, nachos, soda and candy, will remain. As a part of this process, the lobby will receive a facelift.

The first phase also will include preservation and repair of existing finishes in the primary auditorium of the building, which features an expansive balcony.

Balancing historic charm with modern comfort, the company will equip this space with its branded “UltraLux Loungers,” which are the widest seats available in the industry. These heated, electric recliners feature high backs, moveable love seat arms, and a plush leather finish.

“Before we could get to that we needed to take care of some of the plaster work on the ceiling that had been deteriorating,” Vannorsdel said.

The Rivoli had significant leaks three or four years ago, and Fridley invested nearly $75,000 for an entire new roof.

“So we completely reroofed the Rivoli and we solved all of our leaking problems, but we need to get that plaster restored and get it repainted so it can have that same consistent look before we put in seats,” he said.

Vannorsdel said the seating manufacturer told Fridley it could get seats as early as mid-March.

“Assuming we could get a construction company in and get our plaster fixed and begin building risers in the back of auditorium 1 to facilitate the luxury recliners, fingers crossed I’m as optimistic as you can be in a pandemic about being able to get stuff within the supply chain,” he said. “We’re hoping we can minimally, before the summer, have auditorium 1 upgraded to luxury recliners and have our lobby renovation and new concession done.”

Complete bathroom renovations would be part of phase 1 or 2.

Future phases of the construction project will take the facility from three screens to five, enabling the Rivoli to open nearly all new releases.

The company will install stadium seating in several auditoriums, and it will add its luxury loungers in all remaining viewing rooms. In this phase, the corridors and restrooms will be remodeled as well.

Phase 3 of the project will be splitting auditorium No. 2 into three screens.

“It is a very long auditorium that can facilitate a reorientation,” Vannorsdel said.

He said the timeline of phase 3 is more undetermined. Phase 3 would include the construction of a projection mezzanine above the long hallway that would project toward the front of the building.

“By divvying that up in that direction we could still get three 30-foot screens in there,” he said. “Gone are the days and theater presentation when you have these long, really narrow, almost shooting gallery auditoriums. Now it’s about getting as big of a screen as possible and making that viewing experience as intimate as possible. It may only seat 49, but it’s going to feel like it’s an even bigger movie experience because the screen’s going to be wall to wall in that space.”

Renovation of the auditorium 1 balcony will be part of later phases.

The main floor of the auditorium has about 450 seats. After the luxury recliners are installed, there will be about 200 seats on the main floor.

“It’s really cool up there and could be really cool in the future,” Vannorsdel said.

“But overflow doesn’t happen very often when you have nearly 450 seats on the main level,” he said. “When you switch to luxury recliners and you go to 200 seats on the main level, overflow can happen more frequently. So I could see it being open more regularly as use of overflow.”

There are operational issues with having the balcony open every day.

“It obviously takes more to clean and monitor that space,” Vannorsdel said.

Fridley would like to reinstitute balcony nights.

“The Rivoli No. 1 is maybe one of the most special auditoriums we have in our whole circuit and what makes that special is that balcony and the detail to everything that’s in there as well and the history that’s in that,” he said.

Study nixes Mars life in meteorite found in Antarctica
Scientists have concluded that a meteorite from Mars contains no evidence of ancient Martian life
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A 4 billion-year-old meteorite from Mars that caused a splash here on Earth decades ago contains no evidence of ancient, primitive Martian life after all, scientists reported Thursday.

In 1996, a NASA-led team announced that organic compounds in the rock appeared to have been left by living creatures. Other scientists were skeptical and researchers chipped away at that premise over the decades, most recently by a team led by the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Andrew Steele.

Tiny samples from the meteorite show the carbon-rich compounds are actually the result of water — most likely salty, or briny, water — flowing over the rock for a prolonged period, Steele said. The findings appear in the journal Science.

During Mars' wet and early past, at least two impacts occurred near the rock, heating the planet's surrounding surface, before a third impact bounced it off the red planet and into space millions of years ago. The 4-pound (2-kilogram) rock was found in Antarctica in 1984.

Groundwater moving through the cracks in the rock, while it was still on Mars, formed the tiny globs of carbon that are present, according to the researchers. The same thing can happen on Earth and could help explain the presence of methane in Mars' atmosphere, they said.

But two scientists who took part in the original study took issue with these latest findings, calling them “disappointing." In a shared email, they said they stand by their 1996 observations.

“While the data presented incrementally adds to our knowledge of (the meteorite), the interpretation is hardly novel, nor is it supported by the research,” wrote Kathie Thomas-Keprta and Simon Clemett, astromaterial researchers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“Unsupported speculation does nothing to resolve the conundrum surrounding the origin of organic matter” in the meteorite, they added.

According to Steele, advances in technology made his team's new findings possible.

He commended the measurements by the original researchers and noted that their life-claiming hypothesis “was a reasonable interpretation" at the time. He said he and his team — which includes NASA, German and British scientists — took care to present their results “for what they are, which is a very exciting discovery about Mars and not a study to disprove” the original premise.

This finding “is huge for our understanding of how life started on this planet and helps refine the techniques we need to find life elsewhere on Mars, or Enceladus and Europa,” Steele said in an email, referring to Saturn and Jupiter’s moons with subsurface oceans.

The only way to prove whether Mars ever had or still has microbial life, according to Steele, is to bring samples to Earth for analysis. NASA's Perseverance Mars rover already has collected six samples for return to Earth in a decade or so; three dozen samples are desired.

Millions of years after drifting through space, the meteorite landed on an icefield in Antarctica thousands of years ago. The small gray-green fragment got its name — Allan Hills 84001 — from the hills where it was found.

Just this week, a piece of this meteorite was used in a first-of-its-kind experiment aboard the International Space Station. A mini scanning electron microscope examined the sample; Thomas-Keprta operated it remotely from Houston. Researchers hope to use the microscope to analyze geologic samples in space — on the moon one day, for example — and debris that could ruin station equipment or endanger astronauts.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Nebraska's Ricketts seeks tax cut for highest earners
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is proposing an income tax cut for corporations and nearly 419,000 residents whose incomes rise into the state’s top bracket
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LINCOLN — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts proposed an income tax cut on Thursday for corporations and nearly 419,000 residents whose incomes rise into the state’s top bracket.

The Republican governor said he would seek to lower the top rates to 5.84%, down from the current 6.84% for individuals and 7.25% for corporations that are set to take effect next year.

The plan would reduce state tax collections by $178.8 million by fiscal year 2025. Like many other states, Nebraska is flush with cash from a better-than-expected pandemic economy and billions in federal stimulus payments that went to most Nebraska taxpayers.

“I was elected on the promise that I would bring tax relief to our state,” Ricketts said in his annual State of the State address, his final one before he leaves office next year. “It’s what the hardworking men and women of our state deserve. And, given our current financial situation, we must deliver.”

Ricketts also tried to preemptively address a common criticism that cutting the top rate benefits the wealthy, an argument that has thwarted similar plans in past years. Nebraska’s top rates kick in at just over $32,000 for individuals and $64,000 for married couples filing jointly, although many taxpayers reduce their taxable income below those levels through credits and deductions.

“For those who may try to brand this as a tax cut for the rich, I challenge you to ask Nebraskans earning $33,180 a year, or families earning $66,360 a year, if they feel rich,” he said. “They make up the 418,900 Nebraskans in this tax bracket who deserve relief.”

In fact, they make up only the lowest earning Nebraskans in the highest tax bracket. Under Ricketts’ plan, a single person with a taxable income of $40,000 would save less than $80, while someone with $1 million in taxable income would save nearly $10,000.

“The fact is the tax cuts the governor discussed today, including those on Social Security income, are heavily skewed toward the wealthy,” said Rebecca Firestone, executive director of OpenSky Policy Institute, which generally opposes such policies. “They would leave the state vulnerable to cuts to real economy builders like schools and health care when the federal dollars currently bolstering our economy stop flowing.”

Many Nebraska business groups have said income tax rates are one factor that companies consider when deciding where to open, although they acknowledge that businesses also look at the availability of workers in an area, the quality of life and other factors. They argued that lowering the rates would benefit employees as well, allowing them to keep more of their earnings.

“On a collective level, you have more money going into their pockets that’s being reinvested in goods and services,” said Jim Smith, who leads a pro-industry initiative called Blueprint Nebraska. “That’s where growth then occurs, and you have an expansion of the economy.”

Supporters have also said that lowering corporate income taxes would bring some companies in line with the rate paid by smaller businesses, which are often set up to pay taxes as individuals rather than corporations.

In neighboring Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds announced a tax cut plan of her own on Wednesday that would impose a flat 4% tax at an estimated cost of $1.58 billion. Some critics have argued that states are only able to cut taxes because of the economic boost provided by federal pandemic aid.

Ricketts also threw his support behind a bill that would speed up the phase-in of a Social Security tax exemption that was approved last year, implementing it in five years instead of 10.

Ricketts also urged lawmakers to adopt his proposals to build a new state prison to replace the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, to build a canal and reservoir system to preserve Nebraska’s water supply, and a state budget with 1.5% average yearly growth.

Ricketts laid out his plans for more than $1 billion in federal pandemic stimulus aid, which is separate from the state’s general fund. His plan calls for nearly $200 million to go toward public health services and $500 million to go toward addressing the pandemic’s negative affects on the economy, including assistance for economic development projects in north Omaha, and money for low-income parents and Nebraska’s community colleges.

Seditious conspiracy: 11 Oath Keepers charged in Jan. 6 riot
Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol
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WASHINGTON — Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, and 10 other members or associates have been charged with seditious conspiracy in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, authorities said Thursday.

Despite hundreds of charges already brought in the year since pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, these were the first seditious conspiracy charges levied in connection with the attack on Jan. 6, 2021.

It marked a serious escalation in the largest investigation in the Justice Department’s history – more than 700 people have been arrested and charged with federal crimes – and highlighted the work that has gone into piecing together the most complicated cases. The charges rebut, in part, the growing chorus of Republican lawmakers who have publicly challenged the seriousness of the insurrection, arguing that since no one had been charged yet with sedition or treason, it could not have been so violent.

The indictment alleges Oath Keepers for weeks discussed trying to overturn the election results and preparing for a siege by purchasing weapons and setting up battle plans. They repeatedly wrote in chats about the prospect of violence and the need, as Rhodes allegedly wrote in one text, “to scare the s—-out of” Congress. And on Jan. 6, the indictment alleges, they entered the Capitol building with the large crowds of rioters who stormed past police barriers and smashed windows, injuring dozens of officers and sending lawmakers running.

Authorities have said the Oath Keepers and their associates worked as if they were going to war, discussing weapons and training. Days before the attack, one defendant suggested in a text message getting a boat to ferry weapons across the Potomac River to their “waiting arms,” prosecutors say.

On Jan. 6, several members, wearing camouflaged combat attire, were seen on camera shouldering their way through the crowd and into the Capitol in a military-style stack formation, authorities say.

The indictment against Rhodes alleges Oath Keepers formed two teams, or “stacks,” that entered the Capitol. The first stack split up inside the building to separately go after the House and Senate. The second stack confronted officers inside the Capitol Rotunda, the indictment said. Outside Washington, the indictment alleges, the Oath Keepers had stationed two “quick reaction forces” that had guns “in support of their plot to stop the lawful transfer of power.”

Rhodes, 56, of Granbury, Texas, is the highest-ranking member of an extremist group to be arrested in the deadly siege. He and Edward Vallejo, 63, of Phoenix, Arizona, were arrested on Thursday. The nine others were already facing criminal charges related to the attack.

Sedition charges are difficult to win and rarely used, but defendants face steep prison time of 20 years if convicted, compared with five for the other conspiracy charges. The last time U.S. prosecutors brought such a seditious conspiracy case was in 2010 in an alleged Michigan plot by members of the Hutaree militia to incite an uprising against the government. But a judge ordered acquittals on the sedition conspiracy charges at a 2012 trial, saying prosecutors relied too much on hateful diatribes protected by the First Amendment and didn’t, as required, prove the accused ever had detailed plans for a rebellion.

Among the last successful convictions for seditious conspiracy stemmed from another, now largely forgotten storming of the Capitol in 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on the House floor, wounding five representatives.

Most of the hundreds of people charged in the violence are facing lower-level crimes. More than 150 people have been charged with assaulting police officers at the Capitol. Over 50 have been charged with conspiracy, mostly people linked to the far-right Proud Boys and anti-government Oath Keepers. There have been no sedition charges brought against the Proud Boys.

Rhodes did not enter the Capitol building on Jan. 6 but is accused of helping put into motion the violence. Jonathan Moseley, an attorney who said he represented Rhodes, said Rhodes was supposed to testify before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection in a deposition but it got called off.

“He has been subject to a lot of suspicion to why he wasn’t indicted,” so far in the Jan. 6 riot, Moseley said. “I don’t know if this is in response to those discussions, but we do think it’s unfortunate. It’s an unusual situation.”

A second attorney representing the group, Kellye SoRelle, said she was issuing a statement later and said Mosley did not represent Rhodes.

Rhodes has said in interviews with right-wing hosts that there was no plan to storm the Capitol and that the members who did so went rogue. But he has continued to push the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, while posts on the Oath Keepers website have depicted the group as a victim of political persecution.

Other defendants in the conspiracy have argued in court that the only plan was to provide security at the rally before the riot or protect themselves against possible attacks from far-left antifa activists.

Rhodes, a former U.S. Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate, founded the Oath Keepers in 2009. The right-wing extremist group recruits current and former military, police and first responders. Several of those arrested are veterans.

Rhodes has appeared in court documents in the conspiracy case for months as “Person One.”

Authorities say he held a GoToMeeting call days after the election, telling his followers to go to Washington and let then President Donald Trump know “that the people are behind him.” Rhodes told members they should be prepared to fight antifa and that some Oath Keepers should “stay on the outside” and be “prepared to go in armed” if necessary.

“We’re going to defend the president, the duly elected president, and we call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country. Because if you don’t guys, you’re going to be in a bloody, bloody civil war, and a bloody — you can call it an insurrection or you can call it a war or fight,” Rhodes said, according to court documents.

Authorities have said Rhodes was part of an encrypted Signal chat with Oath Keepers from multiple states leading up to Jan. 6 called “DC OP: Jan 6 21” and it showed the group was “activating a plan to use force” that day.

On the afternoon of the 6th, authorities say Rhodes told the group over Signal: “All I see Trump doing is complaining. I see no intent by him to do anything. So the patriots are taking it into their own hands. They’ve had enough.”

Around 2:30 p.m., Rhodes had a 97-second phone call with Kelly Meggs, the reputed leader of the group’s Florida chapter, who was part of the military-style stack, authorities say. About 10 minutes later, Rhodes sent a photo to the group showing the southeast side of the Capitol with the caption, “South side of US Capitol. Patriots pounding on doors.” Around that same time, those in the stack formation forcibly entered the Capitol, prosecutors say.

Rhodes was arrested in Little Elm, a suburb about 35 miles north of Dallas. He was booked into the Collin County Detention Center, where a sheriff’s deputy said that local jail officials could not make Rhodes available to speak with a reporter because he was arrested by federal agents.

He was expected in court Friday in Texas.

More than 70 defendants remain detained on riot charges. At least 183 defendants have pleaded guilty to riot-related charges as of Jan. 11. At least 78 of them have been sentenced, including 35 people who received jail or prison sentences or time already served.