Big and bold: From Hollywood’s restored Chinese to Santikos’ Palladium, new cinemas opt for spectacle


“The biggest challenge was coming up with an exciting design within the defined footprint we were given while still meeting the exhibitor’s programmatic requirements.” Paul Georges, one of our “Class of 2013” leaders last month and principal at JKR Partners in charge of Regal Moorestown Mall Stadium 12 & RPX, was speaking about the New Jersey town of the same name. But such prerequisites and requirements are certainly part of the groundwork for cinema design, construction and upgrades everywhere.

Even in Hollywood, California. There is probably no better example—most certainly not one more creatively exciting and historically important—of working within a defined footprint, quite literally, than the world-famous TCL Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. (With all due respect for TCL’s sponsoring and financial support which have made all the latest improvements possible, this author will never, ever give up on the founding father’s name.) Alongside all the careful refreshing of the historic landmark’s exotic flair for its Sept. 15 reopening, Grauman’s grand auditorium now boasts the third-largest commercial IMAX screen in North America.

Praising the “ample brightness” delivered by Christie’s 4K dual-projector system, senior product manager Jim Dukes noted, “Large screens…present a challenge to most dual projection systems when it comes to the convergence of the image, which must be perfectly aligned to ensure the sharpest results possible. The Christie Duo’s configuration options solve that challenge by making image convergence quick, easy and consistent.” The installation by Cinetech also covered the nearby Chinese 6 Theatres. According to Alwyn Hight Kushner, president and chief operating officer for TCL Chinese Theatres, “Christie was the clear solution for our non-IMAX 2D and 3D showings. [Our] multi-million renovation efforts included a respectful acknowledgement of the theatre’s history, while bringing it into the digital age.”

Changing the ageless layout to stadium-style risers to carry no less than 932 seats fell into the capable hands of Stadium Seating Enterprises (SSE). Although SSE’s vice president Taylor Moson tactfully acknowledges that “we do not really have a ‘favorite’ project,” he readily admits to the Chinese possibly being the most notable one of recent years. “This was a historic conversion of arguably the world’s most famous cinema theatre and they went to great lengths to keep it historic and beautiful. Our foam was brought in specifically for ease of installation time and weight due to the existing structure. The crew was able to carry it through a pedestrian door and lay it down quickly and efficiently,” he details. “Basically like a large puzzle.”

Overall this year, Moson confirms the ongoing development of “in-theatre dining concepts, food service, bar service, and other creative concepts such as a ‘cake bar’ or gourmet popcorn… There are even theatres we have built that have their own breweries on site!” And, “yes, of course,” all of these did require physical changes to the auditorium and stadium configurations.

“The design of the theatre is directly correlated with the concept chosen by the operator,” Moson notes. For example: for their VIP theatres, operators are buying larger luxury-type chairs with reclining mechanisms. This necessitates a deeper platform, some as large as eight feet (2.5 m). In order to increase the depth of the new platform from an existing 36 to 40 inches to six feet (1.8 m), he says, “many theatres are converting platforms by filling in every other platform with our PREFoam EPS material… This is actually what AMC is doing around the country right now, with their Cinema Suites concept and with some of the conversions of their older sloped-floor/stadium-seating standard-concept theatres.”

Speaking of standards, can Moson offer a lesson about technological developments in the way risers are installed? “At SSE, we are always working on new developments with our riser system and are in the process of some very big things! We have one of the only Geofoam and steel stadium riser systems in the country that can be used in a seismic area like California. With that we also have systems for riser-mounted seating or luxury theatre concepts that require electrical and information ports embedded into the riser platforms. I cannot talk about most of them,” he cautions. “Just let your readers know that PREFoam is going to revolutionize the cinema construction industry and the traditional time and cost involved in constructing the stadium-seating riser platforms.”

Construction time and cost is something that comes up with every project, large and small. One of the biggest and boldest examples from last year has to be Santikos Theatres Palladium AVX in West Houston, Texas. Offering so many amenities and options to its guests that it certainly qualifies for our exclusive series on Cinema Entertainment Centers, the project is outlined by our friends at TK Architects International.

The Palladium AVX was “designed to be reminiscent of classic Greek architecture,” TK principal Mike Cummings recounts. The cinema owner “selected a red tile roof, a massive columned façade and museum-quality artwork throughout the interior” of this entirely new 5,000-seat, 180,000-square-foot, two-story, 22-screen complex. “Patrons enjoy state-of-the-art experiences like IMAX, 3D, Dolby Atmos surround sound, VIP rooms, reserved seating, and in-theatre dining.” There are bars and restaurants to boot, retail, expanded concessions, a wine room, gelato, frozen yogurt, Starbucks, arcades and a 16-lane bowling alley.

According to Cummings, “Each auditorium has stadium seating and Santikos’ own AVX projection, which features oversized, wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling screens, state-of-the-art sound systems and the latest in projection technology. Six of the auditoriums, designated AVX MAX, feature Dolby Atmos sound system and enormous 80-foot [24 m] screens—giving the Palladium more giant screens than any other theatre in Texas. Additionally, two of the auditoriums feature double rows of D-BOX motion seats that move in perfect synchronization with onscreen action.” (To learn more about moving seats, check out our September 2013 report.)

Not surprisingly, Cummings acknowledges that a cinema of that scope represented an exciting challenge. “The scale of this project was massive and required a large project team working in close collaboration to open the complex last May. Various members worked on-site, 24/7, in the weeks leading up to the opening in order to be ready for the grand premiere event.” Achieving high grades, the project became a national winner of the “Armstrong 2013 Ideas2Reality” award for innovative design.

A tight schedule and equally precarious timing could not keep TKA and Cinemark from moving ahead on a 23,000-sq.-ft. ground-up complex in the small college town of Ada, Oklahoma, with eight auditoriums totaling 1,095 seats and boothless design. “The project was put on hold for several months,” Cummings recalls. After getting the call that “Cinemark wanted to move forward with the new build quickly,” the project was hit with further delays. “Ground water at one corner, three times the average rainfall in July and more created some challenges in the construction schedule.” Cummings credits “a great relationship with the contractor, MYCON General Contractors, in helping to keep this project moving toward December completion and opening.”

Launching in time for Halloween in Lake Ozark, Missouri, the road to Eagles’ Landing 8 Cine was a lot less scary for TK Architects after ground broke in late January 2013. According to operator Wehrenberg Theatres, “Demand for more movie choices and a desire to bring the latest innovations to the Ozarks necessitated the new building. The eight screens, or three more than Wehrenberg’s existing [theatre] in Osage Beach Premium Outlets, will allow additional films to show, as well as letting films stay longer so all guests have a chance to see them when convenient. Given the unpredictable weather in the area,” guests will also appreciate the conveniences of an indoor box office, Wehrenberg added.

While everything is bigger in Texas, “smaller seems to be better” in Central Missouri, TKA’s Cummings opines. “This eight-plex is compact, efficient and economical,” without sacrificing details that create “a distinctive, exciting moviegoing experience,” he assures. “The building was well-received by all. The client is happy with the outcome and the public seems excited to utilize the facility.” Billed as “the new jewel in the Wehrenberg Theatres crown,” Eagles’ Landing “pulls from the guidebook of modern classic cinema design, utilizing bright colors, vibrant carpets, and dynamic interior lighting including a signature chandelier. The cinema features ‘snuggle seating’ for 1,128 patrons that, with the lift of an armrest, allows them to create their own loveseats. Expanded concessions with alcoholic beverages in various forms, including frozen margaritas, are also offered.

To deliver the graduation speech, we return to Paul Georges of JKR Partners, who opened this session of the “Class of 2013.” Asked about trends going forward, he thinks that “operators will continue to look for new avenues and new features to enhance the moviegoing experience. Dine-in options will continue to grow in the next ten years. And we are starting to see a renewed interest in outdoor theatres as well, whether they are drive-in and take over some of the theatre’s parking for amphitheatre-style seating. This all depends on what kinds of risks the operators are willing to take,” he adds. “But exhibitors have certainly been aggressive in seeking out the next big thing.”

Make sure to attend next month’s session, to hear about other great examples, this time from abroad.