Taking on Texas! New Lone Star State cinemas bring added choices to popular places


Following February’s lesson about diverse communities (http://bit.ly/fji0212/class2), this month the “Class of 2012” is heading on a field trip to Texas. In compiling this year’s review, this author was surprised by just how many theatres were launched last year in the Lone Star State (including the previously reported expansion of Movie Tavern Hulen Mall in Fort Worth (http://bit.ly/fji0113classI). To illustrate their diversity, we selected six cinemas covering activity from small towns to big metro areas, by independent, mid-size and the largest operators.

Starting off with the biggest, recent demographics confirm that Texas is home to two of the densest metropolitan areas in the country—both of which welcomed new plexes. According to a Jan. 15 population count by On Numbers/Business Journals, with some 6.604 million inhabitants, the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metroplex ranks fourth in the U.S. behind Houston (6.192 million), Los Angeles and greater New York City (on top with almost 19 million people).

During the first week of June, Plano, Texas-headquartered Cinemark opened the doors to its 19th complex in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. With some 2,400-seats and 14 screens—seven of which are RealD 3D-enabled—Cinemark Alliance Town Center in North Fort Worth features both its company-exclusive developments of “NextGen” design and “Cinemark XD Extreme Digital Cinema. (FJI first reported about large-format brands in September 2010)

Tim Warner, the circuit’s chief executive officer, noted at the time, “Our new high-tech theatre featuring NextGen auditoriums offers the perfect environment for enjoying some of Hollywood’s most anticipated summer blockbusters.” And indeed, moviegoers have since shared Warner’s assessment that “the Alliance Town Center theatre [is] the perfect addition” to the area portfolio. “Love it! It is so nice to have a nice new Theater by my house,” Jason D. posted on Yelp, six-and-a-half weeks after the opening. “I’m a huge fan of Cinemark [too], my first time at the movies was at one and I love their seats and their service!”

Within a three-mile radius of Alliance Town Center, this “fully integrated, mixed-use community,” developers Hillwood and Trademark Property say, represents “a critical mass of business, residential, shopping, dining and entertainment” for more than 75,000 people with an average household income of $80,000-plus. Offering “beautiful public spaces, pedestrian-friendly environment and master-planned design,” the U.S. Green Building Council bestowed its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for Neighborhood Development on the Town Center, as one of only two in Texas and 80 total in the United States. Of course, it would not be complete without a movie theatre destination.

Moving on to Houston and San Antonio, the 14 stadium screens including RPX: Regal Premium Experience at Edwards West Oaks Mall and Regal Huebner Oaks, respectively, are part of an interesting environment as well. Since opening in August 2012, the 2,966-seat Edwards-branded theatre “provides a new spark to what had been an older, enclosed mall,” details Mike Cummings, principal of TK Architects. “By demolishing one wing of the complex and building a freestanding theatre with related retail and restaurant space, the 60,315-square-foot facility [5,600 sq. m.] breathed new life into the entire center. The convenience of parking and entry into the new theatre—via an illuminated glass tower that serves as a beacon—provides patrons with easy access, while encouraging them to visit the adjacent shops nearby. Edwards West Oaks Mall is a new-age, hybrid center that supports an existing shopping center with entertainment options.”

Originally built in 1997 when “bigger was better,” Cummings recalls how the former AMC 24-screen, 81,000-square-foot (7,525 sq. m.) plex at Huebner Oaks had been vacated in early November 2011 when the lease expired and “the market could no longer support it.” After renegotiating a new deal, Regal Entertainment Group engaged TK Architects to renovate the space “to provide a more streamlined and efficient” set-up in line with the times, Cummings continues. “The facility needed a facelift to remove visible signs of aging—it looked tired. In the process, the new theatre has been rebranded and is not at all recognizable to previous visitors.”

Starting with additional parking in front, the upgraded “customer entry experience” under the large shade canopy includes a new façade at entry, with redone pedestrian lighting and finishes around the building. “In addition to a right-sized theatre complex” of 2,613 seats and 54,625 square feet (5,075 sq. m.), the remaining balance of the building shell was developed into additional “desirable retail space,” he adds.

Both of these locations feature an HPS sound system, large floating screens and custom acoustic panels in all auditoriums. Additional features are an expanded concession menu and full game arcades alongside “upscale finishes” with large-scale imagery in the lobby and party rooms. Designed by Omnova, “these murals are custom-printed vinyl pieces that are installed like wall covering and themed to the facility in which they are placed,” Cummings details. “The one over the concession stand at Edwards West Oaks Mall is the most photo-real we have seen recently.”

Most certainly scenic, Belton is a picture-perfect small town. “Located in the heart of Texas among rolling plains, wooded hills, rivers and lakes,” the visitors center promises that “Belton has a rich history and radiates the romance of the Old West.” No wonder the owners of the Grand Avenue Theaters (www.grandavenuetheater.com) opted for a personality that “blends perfectly into the quaint town.” Jack Muffoletto, another principal at TK Architects, further notes, “The Shilo Group wanted to create a classic American feel that recalls what it was like to go to the movies in days gone by.” Since opening at the beginning of May, “award-winning marquee signage graces the front” of the 24,000-square-foot building (2,230 sq. m.), “prominently lighting up the entrance.” The six-screen cinema offers 1,025 seats, with individual auditorium sizes ranging from a premiere house with 299 seats and a 50-foot-wide screen, to a cozy 75-seater with a 30-foot picture.

“It may be a small market, but this theatre has big ideas built in,” Muffoletto concludes. “State-of-the-art digital technology with 3D is a given. Added amenities include a 20-seat diner/café that features a soda fountain, and a full-service kitchen allowing for a movie grill format with dining options including at your seat, in the parlor or on the patio. Premium seating with reservation options, bigger chairs and more leg room have been sensibly located in the sweet spot of each of the three large auditoriums.”

Though located in the much larger city of Austin, and going for a much more contemporary look and feel, the Galaxy Moviehouse & Eatery in Austin (themoviehouse.com) shares similar characteristics paying tribute to its surroundings (not to mention the culinary element so prevalent throughout the entire “Class of 2012”). Architecturally speaking, Mike Voegtle of 5G Studio (www.5Gstudio.com, featured in our December issue) points out that “the building utilizes Central Texas building materials and tones including Austin Limestone and earth-tone stucco colors. Combined with exposed structural steel elements and metal canopies, the overall building boasts a mature and sophisticated yet simple modern motif. The main entry façade is identified by the large butterfly-shaped canopy. This element was introduced during the initial concept sketches of the project and was carried throughout the entire process as the overall image or theme [before ultimately becoming] the dominant identifying element of the building.” He further relays how the project “went through several modifications… including what type of amenities would be offered, the number and size of auditoriums, and a change with the managing exhibitor. Our entire team worked together to make the required modifications and stay on schedule to meet the opening date.”

In its final design, featuring 11 screens with a total capacity of 1,400 seats on 42,000 square feet (3,900 sq. m.), “the theatre is a hybrid of several popular cinema concepts,” Voegtle concludes. “Seven auditoriums are traditional in nature with capacities ranging from 90 seats up to the large-format auditorium which holds 350 guests. The remaining four auditoriums offer VIP amenities and around 60 large plush seats each, where guests are catered by full-service wait staff providing both food and drink menu items.”

After launching in November, the Moviehouse team offered its own take on the variety on offer there. “We love movies so much,” they wrote on their website about creating “the best moviegoing experience in Austin, just for you. The best part about seeing a movie with us is that you choose how you want to see it. You may be the simple general admission with a soda and popcorn type or the kind that likes to sit back with a drink and a great meal in a luxury recliner [called “Director’s Choice” experience]. Perhaps you like your movies on a three-story screen. Maybe you like your seats to rock and roll with the action. However you like to see your movies, we have it all. From full-service kitchen and bar to the towering DFX house to those great little sour gummy candies you like so much… Whatever film you watch, whatever experience you choose, the Galaxy Moviehouse & Eatery makes the movies better.”

Multiple experiences are equally key to enjoying movies at Premiere Cinemas 16 with IMAX in Lubbock (www.pcccmovies.com), the last stop on our March class trip to Texas. With an overall capacity of 3,423 seats in auditoriums ranging from just over 100 to 425 rockers—with D-Box for select screens—Premiere Lubbock opened in October 2012. “The theatre boasts one of the largest screens in West Texas,” Voegtle enthuses about the 70-foot-wide IMAX. “Other amenities include a lounge built under the IMAX stadium rake, a balcony bar, party rooms and full-service restaurant offerings. The theatre is architecturally unique, specifically due to its West Texas setting. We wanted to provide Lubbock with something very different, especially since this theatre is attached to the South Plains Mall. The final aesthetic is a very contemporary building that blends a modern industrial motif with an Old-Hollywood soundstage feel.” (For more about what the owner-operator feels, please refer to our “Premiere” conversation with Gary Moore below.)

On the construction stage as well, Premiere Lubbock was built upon something old. “Being that this project was the renovation of a former department store and the conversion of existing mall space,” Voegtle admits that “working around the existing structural elements was extremely challenging. During construction the entire second floor of the department store was removed and portions of the roof were raised to accommodate required heights for the auditoriums. All this was done while saving and utilizing existing columns and beams.” In the end, the challenge was well worth it. “The ‘Balcony Bar’ really turned out well,” Voegtle says of his favorite spot. “Being that the theatre has a central lobby accessed from both the parking lot and the mall, it is just a great space to simply people-watch or to get above the crowd in the lobby and relax in several uniquely themed areas.”

Next month, our class will hear exclusive feedback about Regal Entertainment Group’s 2012 openings as provided by Russ Nunley, VP of marketing and communications at the largest circuit in North America. Also on the schedule is an exclusive interview with the recently appointed chief marketing officer, Ken Thewes. The ninth annual overview of cinema design and construction will conclude with a look abroad.

As with the other entries in our series, this survey is selective and personal and in no way lays claim to being comprehensive.

A ‘Premiere’ Conversation with Gary Moore
“We had a lot of fun designing it,” says Gary Moore, owner of Premiere Cinemas, about working with the architect and design firm in creating the 16-plex in Lubbock, Texas. “I recruited the help of 5G’s Mike Voegtle to help capture my vision of a modernistic, pseudo-industrial architectural décor. This facility is attached to the highly popular South Plains Mall and we wanted to carry the center’s clean lines and open spaces into the cinema as well. To soften the urban landscape feel, we then brought in elements of Old Hollywood such as authentic studio lighting, retro-style Hollywood murals, and black-and-white press photos to give the environment a nice hint of nostalgia as well.” Not surprisingly, Premiere Cinemas Lubbock “received rave reviews from the media and the public, local businesses and politicians, and from studio executives who attended the opening.”

In addition to highlighting some of the key equipment manufactures and vendor partners—Horizon drapes and LED poster cases, Barco projectors with GDC servers, Empar Audio sound systems, Dolby 7.1 Surround, Dolphin Star Seating, Gold Medal appliances—Moore shares insight into some of his other choices. “The facility benefits from a genuinely comfortable use of space. There is something interesting to see and do around every corner.” Such as a soaring IMAX sign above the box-office stations and custom artwork throughout. Even inside the auditoriums, guests have something to look at besides what’s playing up on the screen. “The auditorium drapes are a combination of luxurious velour waterfall scallops,” he describes the look. “The pleated and hanging drapes come in a variety of colors—mostly reds, grays, silvers and black—and are similar in all the auditoriums.” The lobby, on the other hand, “is crowned by a mural we had commissioned called ‘Movie Magic and Memories.’ The artist, John Knotts, uses imagery to tell a story of a young boy’s movie-watching memories that had an impact on him through the years.
Starting with classic Hollywood musicals he watched as a kid, and going right up through current movies he saw years later with his own kids, such as Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean and Toy Story.” To Moore, the work “symbolizes our affinity and respect for movies in general, and what the moviegoing experience means to people of all ages...it transcends generations.”

Although he would not confirm that this boy might be him, Moore does make his moviegoing personal. “My favorite aspect is being able to hang out with friends and family in either ‘The Scene’ bistro or at our ‘Balcony Bar’ upstairs before and after the movie.” He goes on to distinguish these options. “Both of our in-lobby bistros have their own bars and offer full-service sit-down dining. ‘The Scene’ on the lower level is a smaller, more intimate setting with a fireplace and is reminiscent of stepping back into Old Hollywood, with movie-reel tables and lights, leather pub seating, and lots of photos of movie stars past and present.” Moore confirms that the bistro space was indeed carved out. “It is tucked underneath the high risers of the IMAX auditorium. There’s quadruple sheetrock and insulation on the walls and ceilings, but it still sort of ‘rumbles’ when a loud explosion scene takes place in the IMAX overhead,” he chuckles. “It definitely portends something BIG is happening behind those walls! We should have called it the ‘Rumble Bar’!”

The “Balcony Bar” also encompasses rediscovered, albeit higher, grounds, but this was not necessarily the result of doing away with the projection mezzanine. “We’ve been building boothless multiplexes for a while now,” he says. “What we did here was to create a large circular mezzanine overlooking the lobby accessible by escalator. Furnished with soft-seating leather sofas and chairs for about 100 people, it also offers full-service dining and lounging. The décor is original and retro comic-book art, it’s very atmospheric and cozy.”

Asked if the boothless design saved Premiere money, Moore replies, “It’s actually more expensive to build boothless cinemas, at least the way we do it. Capturing usable space below the risers costs more, but in the long term we make up for it with increased efficiency and use of space.”

Equally efficient is the full kitchen which was placed just off the lobby to serve the “full menu of gourmet pizzas, burgers, quesadillas, panini sandwiches, potato skins” and more at both “The Scene” and “Balcony Bar.” Moore also notes that 12 varieties of wine and beer are available. Cheers to Lubbock!