Taking the LEED: Carmike & Artech create a majestic environment


On Nov. 6, 2009, Carmike Cinemas opened the 2,500-seat Majestic 12 in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, and closed the Bijou 7, which only a block away had been doing solid business since 1995. Three of the Majestic’s wall-to-wall screens are equipped with RealD 3D, and a 56-seat auditorium marks the debut of Carmike’s VIP, in-theatre dining and beverage service concept coined “Ovation Club.” (www.carmike.com/pdf/ovationinfo.pdf).

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?

“The concept behind green construction is very basically all about the green,” Thompson declares, “and that includes the money. If we can get you a two-and-a-half year payback on something, and from then on it’s just gravy to you, it makes good financial sense.”

Why, then, has it taken so long for theatres to catch up? Other than the cost factor and relying on a building model that works and sells well, both for the industry and moviegoers, Thompson believes it took time for the technology to catch up with the codes. He uses the eternal movie-theatre favorite of neon as an example. Until recently, its brightness and rich colors had always outshone those of the more energy-efficient LED variety. “This is not being negative,” he insists, “but fully understandable as a part of what exhibitors sell and how they sell the experience. It’s nice and bright, all theatrical and powerful…” Nowadays, he believes, “the same end result can be achieved, and very easily installed, with fluorescent lighting, LED lighting, and other types of equally energy-efficient lights.”

With its glass-fronted open design that allows “tremendous amounts of daylight across the lobby,” the Majestic goes further yet. Motion and daylight sensors are connected to appropriate fixtures throughout certain sections of the building, including restrooms, and result in a 75% savings on energy consumption associated with lighting. Artech Design’s LEED AP specialist, Rice Williams, further estimates that the theatre will save an additional 35% over typical installations. “Using carbon dioxide sensors to reduce mandatory fresh-air exchanges and increasing exterior insulation is expected to result in roughly a $15,000 savings per year in electrical power usage.” The HVAC units themselves “are more efficient and contain no ozone-depleting compounds.”

All interior finishes, including paints, carpets and wall coverings, as well as adhesives and sealants are low-content VOC (volatile organic compound). During construction of the Majestic, over 90% of the waste was recycled and kept away from local landfills, hopefully ending up in another building yet to come. With the 43,000 concrete blocks of its exterior walls derived from 60% recycled content and all of the steel structure, the Majestic set the tone. “Speaking to Carmike about how they implement their operations on a more sustainable level” going forward was one of the great opportunities for Thompson. “They are recycling and using environmentally friendly cleaning products. Also, Carmike participates in the TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] Green Power Switch program that is a more economical power-usage rate, along with a more technically scheduled maintenance program to further improve indoor air quality for the patrons and employees,” he enthuses. “Part of our work is educating the client to the value of what green architecture is… It’s better for the users, for the bottom line and for one’s profit margins.

“It is all about responsibility,” Thompson notes. “In order for businesses to stay profitable and successful, they have to be sustainable...and a green building is very much part of the equation. Whether conserving energy and natural resources or enhancing indoor air quality, the better job we do managing what we have today, the better off we will be tomorrow.”

For additional audio-visual impressions, visit a slide show of the construction process (), watch a sneak-peek video and enjoy premiere coverage from the benefit opening.

Select Manufacturers & Service Providers
Speakers & Amps – QSC
Projectors – Christie
Curtains & Screens – Franklin Design
Seats – Mobiliario
Concession Millwork – Hayneco, Inc.
Carpet - Durkan
Wall Covering – National Wallcovering
Brick – Jenkins Brick
Signage – Rite Lite Signs
RGB LED lighting – Lighting Science
Aluminum Composite Panels – Reynobond by Alcoa
Roof – Firestone roofing products
Curtainwall & aluminum storefront – Kawneer
Toilets & Urinals – Zurn
Lavatories - Bradley
Tile – Crossville Tile
Water tank – Corgal
Pumps – Grundfos
Exterior Canopies – Mapes
Fire Alarm – Notifier by Honeywell
EIFS – Dryvit
Drywall – Temple-Inland
HVAC units – Carrier