Noshing and networking: FJI's sixth annual survey of new cinema construction, part 1


As we enter another decade, a toast is certainly in order. Theatrical exhibition has survived and thrived once again. Congratulations and cheers!

There’s probably no better way to kick off the new than by looking at the accomplishments of old…especially if we can have that celebratory cocktail right at the cinema. If there is one defining trend that has materialized over the course of our last five annual surveys of new cinema construction, that would be expanding food, beverage and entertainment options.

In addition to the featured course of Marcus Theatres’ CineDine in our January issue, several of our previous top cinema chefs have cooked up further tempting theatre creations. National Amusements opened more Lux Level lounges at Cinema De Lux (FJI October 2009) and AMC Entertainment taught patrons how to eat with Fork & Screen (February 2009), while Cinebarre numbers four and five launched on May 29 and Nov. 6 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington, and Salem, Oregon, with eight and seven screens, respectively (original recipe revealed in FJI September 2007). Also on May 29, the Plaza Cinema Café opened with 12 screens and a caviar-serving concession stand in the Downtown Arts District of Orlando, Florida. And in October, Alamo Drafthouse crossed the Texas border for the first time and entered into Virginia.

Our other Texas friends at Studio Movie Grill are also on the rise. “Yes, indeed, CityCentre in Houston opened with a bang this year,” director of creative affairs Lynne McQuaker reports. Studio Movie Grill (SMG) co-owner Martin Massman attests, “We just love hearing ‘Wow, this is the best!’ comments both in the theatre and through social-networking outlets.” Further supporting SMG CityCentre as our “Class of 2009” lead-in, this 40,000-square-foot development (3,700 sq. m) highlights numerous other key trends of 2009: going urban and upscale, featuring advanced technology, creating brand awareness and offering alternative usage options.

Opened on March 9, the seventh location of Dallas, Texas-based Studio Movie Grill “is a boutique upstairs version of our concept,” McQuaker elaborates, “with eight theatres ranging from 100 to 200 seats in excess of 1,250 capacity” and a bar area featuring an enormous picture window overlooking the street. The construction was “ground up,” with “some wonderful new branding and signage, 100% Dolby Digital installed to spec, including Dolby 3D and Surround EX sound.” Going above and beyond Houston, all other Studio Movie Grill locations “upgraded one or more theatres to Dolby Digital and 3D this year. In fact, we are proud to say we are the only theatres in the Dallas area with 100% Dolby,” she enthuses.

Also on the technology front, SMG describes the Houston complex as outfitted “to handle large meetings, events, conferences and birthday parties. With hard-wired DLP projectors offering ‘plug-and-play’ display on large screens, meetings and presentations will achieve a richness and retention level significantly higher than in settings not optimized for multimedia.” For McQuaker personally, “introducing a lot of alternate programming has been a wonderful addition, along with growing our social networks and screening programs.”

Socializing and meeting people—whether through networking in person or on the World Wide Web—is another key accomplishment of the graduating Class of 2009.

“In Kazakhstan, our client KinoPark has redefined the notion of the all too well-known game area,” confirms Linda Mathes of Munich, Germany-based Atelier Achatz Architekten. “Instead of videogame machines, now you will find as many as 40 Internet-connected computer stations in a lounge atmosphere.” That way, she finds, “the GameParks are more flexible and can be used by adults for chatting or e-mailing as well as by teens and kids who are enjoying the world of online games.”

Similarily in the concession and snack department, “the trend is moving away from fast food towards a more culinary experience. Instead of grabbing a quick burger and French fries, guests can meet with their friends for a good meal before or after the film,” Mathes says of the sushi bar and diner sections that have become an integral part of the 2009 KinoParks. The resulting “more upscale feel” has been so “very well-received,” she notes, that the concept will be added to existing locations as well.

Among the new locations are KinoPark 7 Keruen in Astana (opened on July 23 with 1,505 seats), KinoPark 6 Sputnik in Almaty (Sept. 15, 700 seats) and KinoPark 7 Mega in Aktobe (Oct. 15, 969 seats). The latter two include one VIP-style auditorium each that connects to the adjoining Cine-Lounge that, in Mathes’ words, is a “small luxury for Kino aficionados.” This area, she elaborates, “also features coat-check service and is only accessible to Cine-Lounge ticket holders. Beverages and snacks are available inside the auditorium as well and brought to the very comfortable seats, which we arranged in smaller groups for two to four people for an even more personal feel.”

Personality galore is achieved by the contemporary design, such as digitally printed wall coverings at KinoPark Sputnik and a variety of textured “Luxury Vinyl” materials manufactured by Armstrong DW. Commenting on the 22-million-dollar investment by KinoPark, Mathes says the circuit is all about achieving a high-end experience with additional entertainment options that all lead away from “hasty moviegoing.”

Saving time, without being rushed, is probably one of the most frequently named advantages of wining and dining at the cinema. At Kernstown Commons in Winchester, “We’re putting a whole new spin on ‘dinner and a movie’ by combining both experiences under one roof,” says Drafthouse Cinema franchisee Steve Nerangis, director of marketing for N/L Entertainment, LLC, at Alamo’s eight-screen, 900-seat, 40,000 square-foot (3,700 sq. m.) Virginia debut. For Jack Muffoletto, principal of TK Architects, “The Winchester program also called for creating a much-needed social-gathering place for the locality, which was accommodated in the lobby seating and bar… It is also the first stadium-seating, new-build franchise project. As such, it was important to address interior and exterior character in a way to preserve a casual-nostalgic-warehouse feel, to maintain the Alamo brand.”

“After 12 wonderful years of multi-unit operations,” concurrs John Martin, Alamo’s president and chief executive officer, “we couldn’t be more excited to grow our brand beyond Texas’ borders. More people are considering the Alamo Drafthouse concept than ever before” (FJI August 2009). Success has been such that, on Nov. 20, another Drafthouse opened in San Antonio, Texas. Brandon Arceneaux and Chris Hoegemeyer, who have owned and operated the city’s first Alamo since 2004 and are planning to launch number three in the market at the end of 2010, brought six screens and 900 stadium seats on 33,000 square feet (3,000 sq. m.) to The Market at Park North. “The coolest thing about Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas is the experience,” Arceneaux declares. “We have been successful in providing an unmatched customer experience.”

Look for more Class of 2009 standouts in next month’s edition.

As with all subsequent entries in this series, we can only feature a selection and personal choice of what the author believes to be representative of exciting and exceptional work accomplished around the world. Obviously, the best way to be considered for inclusion is to send in information about what your company is doing.