While it is hardly unusual to replace an older unit with a bigger and better one, this particular project truly breaks new ground. Beyond its state-of-the art, all-digital sound and DLP Cinema projection features (powered by QSC and Cinedigm, respectively), the Majestic is a role model of environmental conscientious.
By reusing urban infill land (rather than suburban green field) and utilizing building materials with a recycled content of over 20% from within a 500-mile (800 km) radius, the brick-façade beauty stands proudly as the country’s first movie theatre with LEED (“Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”) certification. Even the kilns for the project used methane gas captured from landfill rather than fossil fuel. The facility is already registered with the U.S. Green Building Council and, at press time, is expected to receive the second-to-highest “gold” rating.
Although the $12 million Majestic was cautiously billed for the general media as “the nation’s first standalone LEED theatre,” the project’s principal architect confirms to FJI: “This is the first LEED theatre. Period.” Artech Design Group principal Rick Thompson explains, “Some developers have done a shell, but those didn’t show up as a theatre but merely as a couple of retail stores. There have also been some LEED-certified interior renovations.” But when it comes to the full package, Chattanooga-based Artech and Carmike, headed by president and CEO David Passman, can proudly claim industry leadership.
Carmike has played an active role in the Chattanooga community since opening the Artech-designed Bijou in late 1996, the first movie theatre to be built downtown in decades. Carmike “hadn’t built a theatre in an urban location in over 40 years,” Thompson recalls. “Pretty much like for everybody else in the industry, suburban mall-type developments, shopping and lifestyle centers were the destination locations of choice.” Nonetheless, going downtown “was a pretty good decision,” he says of the impact of a new movie theatre in the heart of town. “It’s all part of what we refer to in Chattanooga as our entertainment district. There are over 20 restaurants within walking distance from the theatre. The Tennessee Aquarium is there [with IMAX 3D], our visitor center and River Front Walk, together with any number of other attractions. It’s just buzzing with activity at all times… Over the last ten years, downtown living has just gone crazy, really.”
Not surprisingly, movie offerings needed to expand in line with the resurgence of downtown. The Majestic is expected to more than double the number of moviegoers there, according to Kim White, chief executive of RiverCity Company, the not-for-profit development agency charged with making and keeping downtown Chattanooga vibrant and green. Chattanooga’s central city is now expected to welcome between 375,000 and 400,000 people annually (up from some 165,000 at the Bijou) and receive an $11 million-plus economic impact.
The same 650-car parking garage that was constructed for the Bijou still serves the Majestic and the surrounding entertainment district today. With three hours of free parking for moviegoers, the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority nonetheless made sure that the Majestic is a stop on the electric bus line, equally free of emissions as of any fares. Convenient public transportation and efficient building footprint are another part of taking the LEED.
“There are some additional costs associated with going green,” Thompson concedes. “That is true. But as technology has advanced, these ‘premium’ costs for green features have gone down as environmentally friendly materials, products and practices have become commonplace within the construction industry. This has effectively reduced the payback periods, where utility cost or maintenance cost savings pay for the initial cost premium. Today many national and local energy codes require a lot of the things that are needed to obtain the LEED certification anyway. So, by going green, building owners are getting a lot of bang for their buck.”
Thompson cites one such feature specific to the Majestic that is well worth the extra effort. “We installed a 10,000 gallon tank and water-reclamation system that collects rain and condensation from rooftop mechanical units to flush the low-flow toilets.” This, he admits, “does involve expenses that you would normally not have associated with a standard suburban-type theatre.” Whereas the latter might also be using white roofing membranes to reflect solar heat, the Majestic’s reclamation of resources makes good economic sense. With an estimated 66% savings—reducing domestic water consumption by 200,000 gallons per year, who wouldn’t want to be Singin’ in the Rain?