High times for Hialeah: Muvico makeover takes theatre to new heights
Following last month’s feature on AMC Randhurst 12, one of the rare new cinema buildings to debut in 2011, we selected two examples of renovations and retrofits for our October focus on design and construction. While CineLux Theatres in Scotts Valley, Calif. (featured in our next issue) is representative of expansion of a long-established location, Muvico Theaters’ 14-plex in Hialeah, Florida, symbolizes creative reuse of an existing space. After all, the latest makeover there did away with two auditoriums in favor of a 4,250-square-foot (395 sq. m.) state-of-the-art arcade and entertainment center.
“The 1980s original theatre is now on its third remodel,” notes David Thollander, VP of purchasing and facilities at the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida-based circuit (www.muvico.com). “This makes it the ultimate in recycling. We were able to restore the theatre back to a high standard of quality at a fraction of the cost and with great success. In today’s times, the business model of renovating is a much better alternative to expensive construction cost and long leases.” That, he opines, is “why nobody’s building.”
New cinema construction has been rare at D. L. Ogden Architecture since the heyday of his work at United Artists Theatre Circuit and Hoyts Cinemas, the firm’s principal architect Dan Ogden confirms. “But renovations, planning and consulting for mostly independent exhibitors have kept me busy,” he says, “in addition to other projects that our full-service firm is working on.” As the project architect, Ogden had completed the plans for Hialeah by April 2010, received final comments by August and was readying the redo with Whiting Turner as general contractor for after Labor Day. With a grand reopening on Dec. 17, Ogden reports that “it all went pretty smoothly,” with no big surprises but some changes along the way.
Muvico favored shutting down the theatre rather than phasing in the renovations while partially staying open for business. “We had discussed this option early on,” but Ogden concurred with the exhibitor “that would have taken too long—another three months minimum—and therefore not facilitated the grand opening of the new theatre by the holidays.” Closing down a theatre has its own challenges, however, Thollander cautions. “Not only are you losing revenue, but you are also at risk of alienating your customers. When they come out and find that you are closed, they may not come back. While we were proceeding with the renovations, I wasn’t sure it was the right way to go. I am absolutely positive now that we made the right decision to close down and reopen with a bang. People have come back in higher numbers than before and, most importantly, they are loving it.”
The $2.5 million interior and exterior overhaul included projection and sound technology; heating and air-conditioning upgrades; expanded concessions; fresh paint, wall coverings and carpeting throughout; signage, renovated restrooms and new rockers from Seating Concepts. Thollander calls the BV614 model with retractable armrests “actually one of the most comfortable seats that we have bought over the course of our long partnership with Seating Concepts. It’s a really good seat for a reasonable price.” Three rows of D-Box motion seats were added later in the process after “our CEO Neal Breton discovered the experience at ShowEast.” (For more D-Box details, see below.)
It was clear from the start, though, that the theatre would receive stadium seating. “In order to be competitive, the old sloped floor needed to be converted,” Ogden notes. “Obviously, that is accompanied by a substantial seat loss, so we began running several studies to see what would be the most efficient.” While four smaller auditoriums retained the slope, “we did not have to raise the ceilings [elsewhere.] I always worry about how stadium seating can make the auditorium look smaller,” the architect admits. “Contrary to what one might assume because of the seat loss, the large auditoriums actually feel even bigger now that they are stadiumized than when they were sloped. We tried to make it efficient and spend the dollar wisely.”
Today based in Bluffton, South Carolina, Ogden had actually worked in the construction department at United Artists when the circuit built the original Hialeah theatre back in 1989. “It was all blacks and pinks with flamingos and golden palm tree accents,” he recalls. Once the walls over the concession stand were opened up, some of that design was still there, Thollander adds. In 1996, Muvico purchased several UA theatres and subsequently gave Hialeah its first facelift. Ogden, who was not involved at that time, describes the last scheme as heavy blues and black with sections of strong red and yellow. While red is still part of the new design, deep purple and terra cotta have been added, creating a much warmer and more earthy feel.
In line with the location, “we are playing upon more of a Cuban color scheme,” Ogden says, lauding the “wonderful” work of his in-house interior designer, Alison Jackson. “We wanted to transition from the old and dated to the elegance that Muvico likes to portray. The upscale look gives the theatre dignity and class, all the while touching upon the taste of the community. We researched some Cuban history and heritage, Old Havana in particular, and came up with colors that Muvico liked and that we thought were tasteful to the community.”
“It is certainly the movie theatre of Hialeah,” Thollander agrees. “The mayor came to the opening and was behind our project all the way. To thank the community, we hung some nicely framed pictures of old Hialeah throughout the hallways as an added dimension.”
Converting the old satellite concession stands to alcove lounges with fine furniture gave further depth to the hallways. Ogden enjoyed “bringing an overall elegance to the promenade as opposed to the dark and monochromatic passageway that was there before. We redefined auditorium portals, which included re-facing the doors and newly coated glass, added sconces and created a little more light than there normally would be…not too much light, but enough to make it feel special.”
Ogden also added windows looking from the hallway into the arcade. The expansive entertainment space with room for 290 players was created by converting the two auditoriums closest to the lobby. Bringing overall theatre capacity down from 14 screens and some 2,000 seats to 12 auditoriums and about 1,560 had nothing to do with competition from other theatres having increased over the years. “It wasn’t for that reason at all,” Thollander declares. “Hialeah always was the theatre with the highest per-cap arcade revenue in the circuit. With all the games just sitting there in the lobby, it didn’t really look very good. But our customers wanted to play those games there. So, we thought, let’s try and expand on this. We teamed up with Primetime Arcade, our game vendor throughout the circuit, for a partnership. They supplied the state-of-the-art games and equipment and we converted those auditoriums, taking down demising walls, flattening floors and all.”
The results are “phenomenal” indeed, with gaming per-capita having tripled and even quadrupled at peak times. Although Thollander personally loves the two lanes of compact bowling best, “the key to the game room’s success is having a redemption area right past the big entrance from our theatre lobby.” Loadable game cards also store all the winning points collected while playing. While redemption games mostly appeal to children, with a wide variety of items to choose their winnings from, the rest of the entertainment center caters to older kids, young adults and even grown-ups. Thollander enthuses, “I did not believe the half-length lane was going to be like real bowling, but it uses a real ball and has the same feel. As a matter of fact, I bowled to the exact same score as I do on a regular game. I tried it several times,” he assures.
Thollander and moviegoing guests have also tried and enjoyed the expanded food options now available at Hialeah. “To create the prep kitchen for our ‘Hot Spot’ offers, we opened up the back wall behind the stand and converted an old storeroom.” Thanks to a Perfect Fry hoodless/ventless deep fryer and standard Turbo Chef ovens, he explains, “we were able to utilize hook-ups and systems that were in place without having to add duct work or extensive exhausts up to the rooftop. Prime Ticket supplied all of the new concession equipment.”
The old stand did not need to be replaced, Thollander continues. “We cleaned it all up and, for a minimum charge, were able to upgrade it to great-looking, high-quality concession stand. There was nothing wrong with the millwork and the facing,” he details. “We just re-covered it with a decorative-style tile in the front and refinished the top.
One of the most expensive pieces of the concession stand is the candy cases,” so Thollander saw an opportunity to economize there too. “We had special tinting applied to the underside of the glass for an entirely different appearance. It looks brand-new and you can’t even tell that it is not.”
When it comes to projection and sound technology, Hialeah definitely delivers the newest and the best. “The equipment had really ended its life,” Thollander says of the existing, all-35mm booth. “We were having trouble with the age of the equipment and kept on making all these repairs. It definitely wasn’t what we wanted for the quality that Muvico delivers.”
Although he “tested the market but wasn’t able to sell any of it,” an unexpected opportunity came along to do further good with what had been serving the theatre so well over the years. “A representative from a local church asked us whether they could take out some of the old metal equipment for recycling and donate the proceeds to charity.” The timing was perfect, as Thollander was at the point where the seating needed to be removed. “We were going to have to pay someone to do this, but she volunteered to bring in people. I didn’t think she would have enough people, but she certainly did and was able to take out everything by the truckloads.”
Hand in hand with full digital 4K Sony picture upgrade, including screens, masking and four RealD set-ups sourced from Hollywood (Florida) Theatre Equipment, Thollander also gave Hialeah the “full sound” treatment. “We went with the latest in processors, which is the Dolby CP750, upgraded all the sound with QSC two- and four-channel amplifiers and installed JBL speakers and surrounds. The old set-up was working fine, but when you go to digital, to be honest, it makes a huge difference. We covered every base and the sound in Hialeah is just excellent now.”
And those bases included adding density, sealing and covering the walls. For Thollander, “the strangest thing” was that they had been filled with sand in between the concrete block. “Back in the day, they thought this would help with the sound. What happened, in fact, was that eventually the sand got loose, so the sound leaked through it anyway. We didn’t tear down the demising walls, so they are still filled with sand,” he cautions. “But we added additional insulation where we thought there might be sound bleed.”
The HVAC system was another upgrade due from back in the day. According to new international and Florida energy-efficiency code requirements, Ogden says, additional Trane units were needed to balance out the projection booth, for instance. “In order to avoid creating negative pressure that would suck in all the hot air through the front doors, the digital projectors in the projection booth needed to be exhausted correctly. They couldn’t be grandfathered in from the way it was in the ’80s.” The expanded concession operations as well required an additional unit for covering the lobby area. In a positive side effect to losing that previously mentioned capacity to stadium seating, “we could leave the units for the auditoriums in place,” Ogden says. “Back then, refresh rates weren’t as strict as they are now. We certainly had enough cooling, given the reduced number of seats.”
The word “cool” also applies to the theatre’s new exterior. Replacing the rather utilitarian box look with a Cuban hacienda-type feel, including accent windows with wrought iron railings, is Dan Ogden’s favorite aspect of all the work. “The structure of the old canvas canopy was intact and sound, so we were able to keep it. We changed it completely by covering all in a terra-cotta color.” Also covered were the old letter boards on the façade that had been announcing the movie titles from the very first day. Thollander was “ready to throw away the reader boards, but James Herd, our chief operating officer, asked: Why don’t you reuse them with a new face? I hadn’t really thought about it,” Thollander admits. With help from Chandler Signs and “for a very, very inexpensive cost, we now have Sony 4K and RealD branding spelling out what the theatre has to offer. It has become part of the cool atmosphere and helped create an entirely new aura about the theatre. All of this makes you feel like you’re in a different place now.”
In fact, “people actually think that we built a brand-new theatre,” David Thollander concludes. “Yet we didn’t change the structure at all. All we did was repackage it, basically, and changed some things around, and people’s perspective went along with that. We renovated what was there and gave our Hialeah theatre a whole new life at a fraction of what it would cost to tear down and build anew.”
Thoughts on Seating:
The Dish on D-Box
“As long as we have appropriate content coming out, these seats sell out in advance.” Muvico Theaters’ David Thollander enthuses about the circuit-wide deployment of D-Box motion seats currently underway. Contributing to the success is a “push that we have made to sell reserved D-Box seats online. People are learning that this the best way to get their D-Box seats in advance.” While Muvico made reserved seating, online and on-site, an integral part of its “Premier” VIP concepts from the start, the company now offers this benefit for all 3D presentations as well. “To add to the level of customer service as part of the enhanced experience,” Thollander says, Muvico upgraded the 3D pricing package with reserved seating all-inclusive. For the best placement of D-Box seats within the auditorium, Thollander suggests the first three rows of stadium risers. “People love them.”
Given the weight and necessary electrical wiring, architect Dan Ogden suggests caution in determining whether specific reinforcement might be necessary when retrofitting. His firm recently added D-Box seats at Muvico Hialeah and was contracted by Rave Cinemas to check the feasibility of a motion-seat retrofit at their West Roads Omaha, Nebraska location. “We analyze how the stadium seating was designed and how stadium tiers were put together,” Ogden says, describing the general process. “As well as whether the base structure of the building would support the D-Box seats.” In both cases, “the resonating seats would not affect the integrity of the existing structural components.”
Ogden works with the structural engineers of Moulton Clemson Jones (MCJ) in his home town and EDC Electrical Design Consultants from Augusta, Georgia. “MCJ determined that the way they had designed the stadium at Hialeah, the concrete pans on metal studs would be able to handle to added dynamic load of the D-Box seats. So no extra structural support or bracing had to be installed. Getting all the electrical in place was the brunt of the work, however.”
OPTIONAL BOX QUOTES
“We are delighted and proud to deliver to the Hialeah community a completely revitalized theatre. Muvico’s state-of-the-art movie presentation, exceptional facilities and superior guest service all add up to the best-in-class movie theatre experience in the area. The Muvico Hialeah 12 will continue Muvico’s reputation as a leader in the movie theatre business.”
—Neil Bretan, Chief Executive Officer, Muvico Entertainment
“Muvico has a clear vision for the future of digital cinema exhibition, and they were one of the earliest proponents of Sony 4K technology…which [has] been tremendously successful for them in exhibiting movies as well as alternative content. Sony is proud to continue working with Muvico as they expand their digital efforts.”
—Andrew Stucker, Senior National Account Manager for Sony’s Digital Cinema Solutions Group