Pell City Premiere: 5G Studio collaborates on entertainment center design

Cinemas Features

Welcome to Premiere Lux Ciné, Bowl & Pizza Pub, set to open in Pell City, Alabama, during the fourth quarter of 2018. This 46,000-square-foot (4,300 sq. m) combination of a seven-screen movie theatre with a 12-lane bowling venue, an arcade with some 50 attractions, dedicated food and entertainment spaces, as well as zip rides and plank walks “pioneers for the industry with a large and multi-faceted destination-center model that serves growing suburban areas in the United States.”

Diving further into the project description furnished by 5G Studio Collaborative, withPremiere Pell City the multinational firm’s entertainment division “has designed an innovative entertainment destination center that is uniting numerous favorite classic American pastimes with modern approaches in one location, with stay-and-play appeal that is precisely serving the needs of the Birmingham suburb’s consumer and marketplace.”

As we take an exclusive peek ahead to the great things to come, we also look back to the inception of the project, some ten years in the making. Local newspapers first reported about plans for the development back in 2007, and the city of Pell City had always wanted to include a movie theatre as part of the development. Now they are getting one, and then some.

“We were involved early with concept design and tested possible variations,” explains Mike Voegtle, partner at 5G Studio. The mission was to work alongside Premiere Cinemas’ president and chief executive officer Gary Moore on establishing the right size and right fit, from building footage and number of screens to amount of land and plenty of parking required. Much of this had to do with the city, going back and forth for a few years, with time gaps while waiting for responses. “Just about two years ago,” Voegtle says, “we really got into full design with Gary and his Premiere team.”

Seems like a good idea to be in for the long haul with these types of projects? “More often than not these days, projects just take longer to get going,” Voegtle concurs. “It has become a lot more complicated: Financing has been a lot more complicated, and dealing with site constraints in different municipalities.” He goes on to mention two reasons. “One, there just is not as much land available as there used to be. With that, we are using more complicated sites. Zoning regulations always represent complications… Two or three years of development time, especially for large projects, is not unusual.” Secondly, any movie theatre and entertainment project is “at the mercy of the overall project when we are working with developers on a larger site and master plan.”

Although that sounds like a potential source of frustration, Voegtle disagrees. “We love what we do, especially on the cinema and entertainment side. Basically, we jump when we are asked to jump. And, over the course of several years, our exhibitor clients may change what they want to do as well. I believe when this started, there was no FEC [Family Entertainment Center] component to this location.”

Over the course of the past ten years, exhibition has changed, of course. Not surprisingly, “as Gary started to see what was happening in the marketplace, he wanted to add the larger entertainment side, including bowling, gaming, ropes course, bar, pizza pub… That kind of expanded the program and expanded our design work. So, sometimes, as these things do take a long time to develop, it turns out to be better for the project because it evolves with the times.”

Part of that evolution was the seating. “Even as recently as two years ago,” Voegtle relays, “we were still debating with our clients as to whether or not they should add reclining seats. I can tell you that 100 percent of them, right now, are doing recliner seating. We are not doing a single project with traditional seats.” And indeed, Pell City’s recliners will be electrically powered in all auditoriums, replete with USB ports and swivel tables for dining.

Expanded food and beverage options are, of course, another relatively recent and certainly successful change. And those options will be available at Premiere Pell City with a “scratch pizza kitchen and pub with a full bar, ice cream and coffee destinations” as well. In addition to considering in-theatre service at this point, Voegtle notes, the concept includes a “walkup bar where guests can order food and carry it with them into the auditoriums,” before eating it while lying on their backs. Hail Caesar, enjoy your bacchanal! On a more serious note, Voegtle agrees that sightlines have become more critical than ever in a reclining environment, be it Roman or otherwise. “Deploying recliners and stadium seating makes the part of sightline study in our design process much more intense. We must make sure that the sightlines work both in an upright position and in the reclined position. We cannot sacrifice any one seat, they all have to work, and that has been a challenge.”

As recliners require more space, did the overall building size grow from the original plans, or were individual auditorium capacities adjusted downward, as is the case with today’s retrofits? “The seat capacity per auditorium is smaller,” Voegtle contends. “The amount of square footage that we have to stay within, and the market size, are the reasons. This is not a large urban, metropolitan area that requires large auditoriums with a lot of seats. I would say Premiere Pell City is a medium-sized facility.”

Before one considers the entertainment component, one might add. Mentioning the size of the market again, how does one assess how large to go? And whether to build 12 lanes of bowling versus just four? “Much of that is direction given to us by our client,” he explains. “We help them and provide the studies to show what that would look like in the form of a real estate footprint. We also work with other partners that our clients have, who are generating feasibility studies… A lot of that information is given to us as part of the program when we start designing, and then we take it from there.” One such partner is Brunswick Bowling, along with key technology and expertise from Barco, GDC and RealD 3D, and pre-show support from Screenvision.

Supporting the resulting investment of $9 million-plus is a question best asked of Premiere Companies’ owner-operator, Gary Moore. “You determine what amenities are missing in any given market and decide if the market is likely to support the offerings,” he responds. His personal favorite aspect of the venue? “The fact that there is nothing else like it in the area,” he enthuses. “I think cinema owners never stop looking for new ways to entertain their guests better. Any attractions that diversify the appeal of the facility are positives, provided you are able to draw from a large enough trade area to support them.”

Making all these attractions and amenities into one attractive entertainment-center whole is key. “It really is,” Voegtle agrees. “That’s the challenge. And that is also what we feel sets us apart. We call it project mapping, entertainment programming. When we receive guidance from our client, we have to figure out how all of those elements align with each other. What are the adjacencies of those spaces? How do you get from one space to the next and have that circulation flow in a way that not only benefits the customer but also makes the most economic sense for the exhibitor?” It is about access and visibility, essentially, about where guests want to spend their time and money, he continues. “Ah, there’s the bar. I see the concession stand. I see bowling over there. The game room looks like a lot of fun. I know how to get to the movies…” By quoting customer impressions, Voegtle extracts his mission as architect and designer. “We have to bring those elements together so that the facility presents them properly; and we also to have to place them elegantly in a way that is beautiful architecturally. It is about how you align those individual spaces and combine them in a way that makes them flow well together. I think this project does that extremely well… It flows well, it works well. Pell City features some big, eye-catching elements. As you walk in, you know exactly where everything is located.”

While signage and lighting are essential towards achieving that goal, it is more than that, Voegtle elaborates. “In this particular building, we use some pre-engineered metal building components which enabled us to have greater span, architecturally. Those larger spans allow us to capture larger spaces without too many columns. It is a very open floor plan where you can see across and through from one space to the other.” With other spatial elements such as different ceiling heights, the 5G Studio team created volumes that make those different areas of entertainment more identifiable as independent entities, he adds. “The strong, bold and substantial material elements in the creation of this open space give a fun chemistry in a modern environment that was created for a technology entertainment experience that is both exciting and relaxing.”

Remaining on the topic of space, there is much more of it required behind the scenes. “Surely,” Voegtle concurs. “If you have a bar, you need a keg room. With that comes a lot of underground plumbing that needs to be coordinated within the structure and the rest of the space.” Twenty years ago, “16-, 20- or 24-screen megaplexes with traditional concessions were pretty simple to design. Nowadays, with food service, everything going digital and all the interactive systems, there’s a lot of integration going on. They are complicated little projects,” he deadpans.

“The big one,” without doubt, is the kitchen, “especially when you are doing any type of dine-in service to the auditoriums. 5G Studio designs have included the smallest kitchens of 1,200 to 1,500 square feet to as large as almost 4,000 square feet [140 and 370 sq. m, respectively]. This depends on the exhibitor’s offerings, how large their menu is, and what is included, as well as the type of food service presented. Either way, that very size is equivalent to one theatre auditorium. One may argue that you are sacrificing revenue-generating space for a kitchen, but that same kitchen is generating a lot of revenue as well. So, it is really a fair trade, if you will.”

Voegtle also looks beyond functionality. “I think movie theatres in general, and family entertainment centers in particular, are ‘form-follows-function.’ Your readers have heard that before from architects, but it is particularly true in this case. Multi-function venues really need to be designed from the inside out. Ultimately what we have, that form, then should have some sort of aesthetic appeal.” Changing aesthetics notwithstanding, “as we are working with Premiere, Pell City represents more of… [Voegtle looks for the right word] more of a combination of industrialism and modernism. Especially with the integration of the pre-engineered metal building components, upon which, traditionally, architecture would look down upon as kind of a ‘cheap’ way of doing a building.” Instead, he says, 5G Studio “took advantage of that option. Yes, it is less expensive, which is great for our client, but this also delivers a large open span in a much better way than with traditional means of construction. Premiere Cinemas Pell City really is a great marriage of form and function.”

With all due respect to Gary Moore’s fiancée, Michelle, 5 Studio and Premiere Cinemas are enjoying a great relationship. “We have been designing for Premiere since probably 2007,” Mike Voegtle says with pride in his voice. “Over the years some of the projects were built, many others are still in design or were postponed… No matter what, they have been wonderful clients of ours. One of the things that we love about Premiere and Gary is that he really adapts well to the changing environment in the cinema world. Gary allows us to try and be creative, not just for him but with him. He comes to the table with great ideas, and then he lets us explore those ideas and really try to push the boundaries of what we can do. This building in Pell City is a perfect example of all that,” Voegtle concludes. “He and the team just have always been a pleasure to work with.”