All in the family: FJI's seventh annual survey of new cinema construction, part 2


Tough economic times have always opened up new opportunities for entrepreneurs. (See our 10th-anniversary tribute to Phoenix Theatres in this issue as a prime example.) So it should come as no surprise that the group of six cinema laureates in part two of our “Class of 2010” survey of new theatre construction has benefited from opportunity and hard work.

Again, with these projects, we can confirm the 2010 trend line of expansion of and upgrades to existing venues alongside new builds and reopening of closed locations, including a 1941 Moderne movie house as one of three we’ll examine in Florida alone. Given the wintry climate mostly everywhere, let’s head for the Sunshine State.

Anchoring the 1,500-acre mixed-use Town Center development in Palm Coast, Florida, the 49,000-sq.-ft. EPIC Theatre (4,550 sq. m) opened on June 25 with over 2,230 seats and individual capacities of its 14 all-digital auditoria ranging from 73 to just under 300 leatherette rocking chairs.

“The movie theatre design includes party rooms, seating lounges, and a palm tree-landscaped entry plaza,” notes TK Architects’ Michael Cummings. The latter, he explains, was “designed to have future construction of retail buildings built in the front on either side.”

The façade, which already stands proudly in the center, “mimicked architectural elements from the historic downtown Athens Theatre in DeLand, Florida, the corporate hometown of Epic Theatres. “Many of these same elements—along with those of the interior wall décor—were replicated in the stained floor pattern of the lobby.” Cummings says the way this approach “tied the space together” is his personal favorite aspect of the theatre: “The concrete was ground and polished to show the aggregates simulating terrazzo flooring and had accent-stamped decals etched into the design.”

There was something else about that floor, however, that etched Epic into this author’s class-attendance log. “Inside, a man was mopping the vast, marbled-purple lobby floor,” blogged about the 75 minutes prior to the VIP opening event. “That would be Frank DeMarsh, president of the DeLand-based company that’s opening in the 14-screen theatre in Town Center. A woman came by, grabbing from his hand: ‘Can I take the mop? The president is on his way, and I need to get the mopping done.’ That would be Edie Lawrence, DeMarsh’s sister and the company’s chief financial officer. She wasn’t kidding: She got to mopping a different part of the floor.”

Epic is operated by third and fourth-generation exhibitors who built their first theatre in 1947. Ahead for 2011 are two more new multiplexes, VP of purchasing Clint DeMarsh told our friends at Barco, who installed their Series II DP2K-15C and 20C models at Palm Coast. “The projection area is no more than a small walk-up space that contains a projector and a computer,” FlaglerLive observed.

Quite a bit larger, the dedicated 70 x 40 foot (21x12 m) IMAX at Penn Cinema in Lititz is equally a product of both new digital technology and longtime enthusiasm for the business. Located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the theatre name does not derive from the state, nor from the university, but from its operator, Penn Ketchum. (About his moniker, he told the managing editor of “I’m named after William Penn...he’s in my family.”)

Since launching his cinema in November 2006, the self-described “movie guy” shares ownership in Penn Cinema Management Co. with his father-in-law, Bob Tucci, and the father-and-son team of John and Jonathan Byler. “In a world of chain movie theaters, one man had a dream,” wrote in February 2008 about the impending $2 million expansion. By the following September, Penn Cinema had gone from ten to 14 screens, added 500 seats and launched the conversion to digital. (Not counting IMAX, there are eight digital projection systems with four RealD 3D running today.) On Nov. 18, 2010, the midnight opening of the 425-seat IMAX completed the final expansion in Lititz…so far. (A 15-plex including IMAX for the Wilmington, Delaware riverfront is on Penn’s agenda for Thanksgiving 2011.)

“The comments are all the same when someone enters the auditorium: Wow!” reports Glenn M. Felgoise to FJI. The director of marketing at JKR Partners attended the IMAX opening with a team of architects, designers and project managers from the Philadelphia-based firm. “The design intent of the building was to showcase the screen size. Everything about the building says ‘big.’ It was designed as a premium experience from beginning to end.”

As a freestanding 20,000-square-foot complex (1,860 sq. m), “the project is designed to complement the massing and materiality of the existing 14-screen,” Felgoise elaborates. “One objective for the exterior of the theatre was to express the unique profile of the IMAX by emphasizing the angles of the stadium seating and sloped ceiling. The interior design combines industrial elements with more refined and whimsical elements such as sophisticated lighting and painted graphics, creating an overall balance that feels casual, fun and fresh.”

Although Penn Ketchum told LancasterOnline, “Opening the IMAX theatre was really, really fun,” JKR Partners attests to the challenges. “The schedule was very aggressive. It was three months from the beginning of steel erection to opening.”

On an equally tight schedule, to make it in time for Twilight: Eclipse on June 30, considerable handiwork by its owner-operators, Ken and Jake Stocker, went into reopening another previously shuttered multiplex in Taylor, Michigan. Closed in mid-December 2009 after 20 years as the AMC/Loews Cineplex/Jack Loeks Star 10, the father-and-son team, who also operate theatres in Detroit, Flint and Livonia, as well as the Pontiac Silverdome drive-in, put this 1989 Star in the Spotlight again: “Recently Renovated. Stadium Seated.”!/pages/Spotlight-Taylor-10/174648445881818?v=wall) In addition to having been entirely repainted, among the renovations are a new box office, concession stand, projection and sound equipment, f noted online. “We’ve freshened up the whole place,” Jake Stocker confirmed to the reporter. “Most people feel like they’re getting ripped off when they come to a movie theatre,” he added about the theatre’s $7.50 top price policy . “We’re trying to come in at a lower rate.”

Down South, on Oct. 8 in Waynesboro, Virginia, the 1,100-seat Zeus Digital Theaters eight-plex premiered with 100% digital technology and Dolby 3D, thanks to the technology experts of Rydt Entertainment and MiT. “Brett Hayes, proud owner, and his son John rolled up their sleeves and did a lot of the inside work themselves,” Jerry Van de Rydt tells us. “They are enthusiastic theatre operators who are not afraid to get their hands dirty, with the energy, talent and drive to make this new venture a great success. Congratulations on a job well done!” We might add extra kudos for John, who’s a mere 16 years old and worked on stadium seating, design and networking, among other jobs during construction.

Designing a lobby reminiscent of ancient Greece—it is all-stadium seating, after all—along with the Zeus party and meeting rooms and a retail store that “focuses on movie related t-shirts, toys and accessories,” Hayes made sure the program matches the name. “We all know about the Apollo Theater and the Mercury Theater, but there is no Zeus Theater,” he explains in his blog. “Greek gods are great for theatre names simply because they invoke the fantasy that is shown in the movies. Zeus works especially well since his icon is the lightning bolt which loosely translates into digital projection.”

Looking at our last two graduates, our theme of family connections surfaces once again. The Marion Theatre in Ocala, Florida, is operated by the fourth-largest circuit and a publicly traded one to boot. How Carmike Cinemas came to run the digitally and otherwise updated Streamline Moderne delight, however, is another true story of friend and family connections. (More on Carmike’s expansion of the Ritz in Columbus, Georgia, to follow next month.) Thanks to the Theatre Historical Society Readerboard and Ocala-Star Banner, the project came together “because of a little serendipity and a former Ocala city councilman.”

While attending his high school reunion, the Banner reported, city councilman Kent Guinn was introduced to S. David Passman, who attended the reunion with his wife. “It turns out that Passman was an Ocala City councilman when he was 19. Today, he is chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Carmike Cinemas. I told him, ‘I have a theatre I want you to look at,’” Guinn is quoted. When they met at the Marion Theatre, Passman advised Guinn “he had two RC bottle caps and a quarter, the theatre’s old admission price. So Guinn, who had been waiting for eight years for an opportunity to present the theatre to someone who could possibly breathe new life into the historic movie house, let Passman in the door.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Built in 1941, the Marion showed films for 30 years before going dark between 1971 and 1986. After serving as the Discovery Science Center during the 1990s, it reopened for movies and live events in 2007. That was due, in no small part, to funds raised by John Travolta hosting a VIP event and providing one of the Wild Hogs bikes for auction. The May 26 grand reopening party benefitted four Ocala charities.

The launch event for our last stop in February, further south in Florida, was all about giving back to the community—both local and our industry’s—that made the 141-seat Coral Gables Art Cinema possible. “With swaying palm trees backlit with spotlights, a red carpet, and plenty of Hollywood-style fanfare,” the Miami edition of described how the mayor himself “led his fellow movie buffs into their brand-new Coral Gables Art Cinema.”

Getting there required the combined efforts of the city, which owns the building and provided the funds for the theatre build-out, and cinema industry professionals who not only donated time and expertise but also almost all of the equipment (see sidebar). Together with many individual donors and cinema members, that makes one big, happy family. Explains Robert Rosenberg, the Art Cinema’s director, “In trying to determine how best to use a large open space at the base of a 600-car public parking facility in the heart of downtown,” the project was originally conceived in 2004 by local residents Paul Posnak and Cathy Swanson. Just as Rosenberg is also a festival programmer and the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker of Before Stonewall, Swanson could rely on yet another industry insider for help. She reached out to Steven Krams, president of North Miami-based Magna-Tech Electronic Co. and International Cinema Equipment Co.. “Mr. Krams provided pro-bono design and engineering concepts to the City of Coral Gables,” Rosenberg explains. Then he “responded to the resulting proposal to create an art house in the space” and founded the not-for-profit Coral Gables Cinemateque, which has since become the legal entity that operates the Art Cinema. “I’ve been involved since day one,” Krams confirmed to “This is as gratifying as birthing a baby, although probably not as painful as passing a kidney stone.”

Equally gratifying, the public has been going gaga about the baby. Since opening on Oct. 15, 2010, “the cinema has enjoyed a warm reception from the Miami public,” Rosenberg puts it bit more neutrally. “In not yet two months of operation, we have compiled a mailing list of over 1,500 names as well as over 150 annual members. The front page of the Sunday Miami Herald featured the cinema when it opened, and audiences continue to grow as the word spreads about our diverse programming.”

Hopefully, this Class review will help spread the word even further.

As in subsequent entries to this series, we can only feature a selection and personal choice of projects that have come to the author's attention. Obviously, the best way to be considered for inclusion is to send in information about what your company is doing.

Technology & Equipment at a Glance

(selected vendor and manufacturer information as provided)

Coral Gables Cinemateque (operating the Coral Gables Art Cinema)

Gifted by Magna-Tech Electronics and/or by the manufacturers
- BARCO DP2K15C projection system & scaler
- Dolby 3D System
- Sony Digi-Beta and Betacam decks; Blu-ray DVD System
- Kinoton FP-38 dual 16/35mm projector; ISCO-Optic 35mm and Schneider 16mm lenses; Christie AW5R 5-deck 35mm platter
- Kelmar film handling systems, Neumade splicing equipment
- Dolby CP-500 analog/digital audio processor, Dolby CP-750 digital audio processor
- QSC DCA Series power amplification, QSC speakers; Mackie Audio Mixing System
- Mobilario seating
- SMART dimming system; EOMAC acoustical treatments; Madrigal stage lighting; Harkness screen
- Lawrence crowd-control systems, Bass poster displays; Panasonic phone system; OmniTerm POS, Norcon talk-thru system
- Stein concession counters; Cretors popcorn equipment, Gold Medal concession accessories

EPIC Theatres Palm Coast
- Barco Series II DP2K-15Cs and DP2K-20Cs models with Barco’s proprietary and patented cooling designs, modular construction, sealed engines, Smart Power Systems and Diagnostic Companion, as well as many additional features

Zeus Digital Theaters
- Equipped with Barco Series II DP2K-20C projectors, GDC SX-2100A servers and Dolby 3D, all networked with a central TMS storage and a complex matrix switcher for A/V source distribution
- Sound systems comprised of Dolby CP750s, capable of 7.1 digital sound and feeding Crown DSI amplifiers and JBL speakers throughout.
- Doremi’s CineAsset software, used to encode the pre-show entertainment, which is also run off the servers and through the digital cinema projectors
- MPL bases, IS30 spike/filters, IMC2 automations and pre-wiring of all sound racks, provided by MiT