Multi-tainment! UltraStar serves up plenty of action at Ak-Chin with nine venues under one roof


“This is not just any movie theatre. It’s also the site of your next corporate presentation. It’s your own private screening room. It’s delicious dining, cocktails and service in a unique setting. It’s your conduit to being a part of all the action onscreen. It’s UltraStar Cinemas at the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center at Ak-Chin Circle.”

Featuring 12 auditoriums—or more like 26, as UltraStar president, CEO and film buyer Alan Grossberg will later explain—in combination with eight different entertainment options that could all very well stand on their own in terms of size and services, the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center is the fifth example in our exclusive series about Cinema Entertainment Centers (CEC, In addition to the all-“Pure Digital Cinema” movie component (comprising Barco projectors with GDC servers and MasterImage 3D), this complex located within the Ak-Chin Indian Community in Maricopa, Arizona, features a 10,767 square-foot amphitheater (1,000 sq. m), alongside 24 lanes of “Ten Pins Down” bowling, 3,000 playable square feet of laser tag (280 sq. m) and a fun-filled games and redemption center to “Play n’ Win.”

In the food and beverage department, the Multi-tainment centers on the “347 Grill,” a full-service restaurant with outdoor patio and seating for some 175 people; includes an ice-cream parlor (“Cones Café”) and a “sophisticated, lounge-inspired” sports bar covering 61 by 48 feet (18.6 by 15 m). Overlooking “Ten Pins Down,” this “Luxe Lounge” also offers a separate function room of 22 square feet to complement no less than four other party rooms with capacities for up to 20 guests each. Last but far from least, each one of the stadium-seated auditoriums, ranging in capacity from 184 to 285 people, has an upscale “Star Class” balcony offering in-theatre wining and dining at the push of a button.

And to think, the original feasibility and demographic studies called for no more than a six-screen cinema for this area of 45,000 inhabitants, which lies nestled in the Santa Cruz Valley of Southern Arizona, some 58 miles south of Phoenix (93 km). Shortly after redeveloping the former UA Theatre in Scottsdale, Arizona, as UltraLuxe Theater Pavilions 11 (FJI Class of 2010, April 2011), Grossberg received a call from the chairman of the Ak-Chin Indian Community about possibly opening a theatre on a 20-acre property adjacent to their casino site. “After doing the demographics and reviewing the limited possibilities given the overall catchment,” Grossberg concluded that “we would certainly work with them to build and manage a multiplex, but that we could not invest in Maricopa at this time. After the vice chairman and chairman both suggested adding other entertainment facilities like a bowling alley into the mix, we all started thinking.” He goes on to describe the apparent ease in which the venue came together. “As we sat there, drawing different squares on a piece of napkin, we realized why don’t we put it all under one roof? Quickly, laser tag was added, the restaurant and a sports bar… By the time we were done with our meeting, they liked the idea and gave the green light to go ahead and take it to the next level.”

Grossberg also learned that the Ak-Chin leaders had met with “a bunch of other exhibitors and not one of them would open a theatre in the area. We were the first ones who were positive about the idea, so we were doing some consulting for them. That’s how it started. And two months after my first meeting, we were getting the architects at Nelsen Partners from Scottsdale involved. The time from when they started drawing the building to the time we opened our doors in November 2012 took just 12 months.”

Admittedly, that was a challenge. “Number one, building something of that size and that complexity in ten months after we got the first shovel into the ground was an incredible feat. And then, to only have access to the facility two weeks before opening…” One can still hear breathlessness in his voice at the mere thought, it seems. “We hired 300 employees and first had to train all of them on-site for everything! We were pretty much under our own deadline.”

Grossberg confirms that, because of the films coming out, he told the chairman “if we weren’t going to be open by November, it would not pay to be ready again before May. So, at one point over the summer,” he recalls, giving credit to construction company A.R. Mays, “they were working 24 hours a day with three shifts. It was pretty amazing.”

Although Grossberg admits never to have built a bowling alley before, it was always an important element in the discussion about “what components of family entertainment can we include in this venue?” In other words, “we wanted it to be family-friendly for all ages.” When deciding, “we looked at various companies in the different areas” before settling on Brunswick for bowling, on Embed for the redemption games and Creative Works to install the laser tag arena. “I had been in the arcade business years and years ago. So that was pretty easy,” he opines.

Counting on “the latest in bowling fun from Brunswick,” to quote from the Multi-tainment Center’s group marketing brochure, combined with “the audiovisual capabilities of the hippest night club” turns the 16 regular and eight VIP lanes at “Ten Pins Down” into a “one-of-a-kind entertainment experience.” Just as “You Have Never Experienced Bowling Quite Like This,” the Urban Arena Laser Tag is “Right on Target” with eight to 20 minutes of individual or group play. The brochure further states, “The Newest, Most Exciting One-Stop Non-Stop Entertainment Destination” would not be complete without the combination of “Luxury & Entertainment With Our Star Class Theaters.”

Setting a “new standard for the 21-and-up moviegoing experience…guests can sit back and relax in reserved plush leather seating while enjoying upscale amenities like in-theatre dining, beer, wine and cocktails delivered right to their seats” with PlexCall’s touch-button system. “I always say we have a 26-auditorium theatre.” Grossberg goes on to explain, “There are 12 full stadium auditoriums downstairs and each one features a VIP-style ‘Star Class’ balcony with big, plush seats, etc. Two of the auditoriums also have a very private, soundproof skybox with room for six to 20 guests. Finally, the ‘JBar’ adds to the guests’ Star Class experience by providing a walk-up option for adult beverages and an area to lounge pre- and post-movie.” All of them are efficiently serviced by a separate kitchen that also caters to the Luxe Lounge. (Kitchen number two is located on the main floor covering the restaurant and bowling.)

Overlooking the bowling lanes on the ground floor, Luxe Lounge covers 5,732 square feet (533 sq. m) of fun—including foosball, billiards, shuffleboard and darts—for a capacity crowd of over 300. The 17 flat screens and the 20-foot digital projection screen are part of a “network of 185 monitors of all different sizes throughout the building,” Grossberg states. Designed and installed by BeMedia and managed with software from Crestron, “we control what goes on each screen individually and/or in combination with others. There is total flexibility,” he assures. “We can put movies and even the Super Bowl on the Jumbotron outside.” Located on the building right in front of the amphitheater, it is “the largest in the state of Arizona.”

Last year’s program of older movies and family-oriented films at the Ak-Chin Amphitheater ranks pretty high amongst the activities that Grossberg enjoys when it comes to his personal Multi-tainment options. “I really like both our ‘Movies Under the Stars’ and, of course, all of the concerts that we have done, which were really, really exciting.” In the food and beverage department, he just loves the pizzas at 347 Grill. “They do a fantastic French dip sandwich and Luxe Lounge has a great steak and seafood platter. I like many of the salads too. Our food is just great all around,” he assures.

The UltraStar Multi-tainment Center at Ak-Chin Circle is “a whole new experience and I love it,” Grossberg summarizes. “It is so much fun. When people walk into the venue and look around, they truly go ‘Wow!’ It is that amazing. When we signed the deal, the chairman of the Ak-Chin Community said to me, ‘When this thing opens, you need to wow me.’ On opening day, he walked in and around the Center, and just couldn’t stop saying ‘Wow.’ The Ak-Chin people are a very humble tribe and their leaders really show foresight in going beyond just casinos and gambling. I have always been impressed with Ak-Chin’s commitment to economic and social development in the region,” he says. “They truly care about the generations to come. The community has Southern Dunes Golf Club, operates the Ak-Chin Regional Airport and does potato and egg farming, to name but a few of their enterprises. They are visionaries. It was really cool to sit down with this group with which we shared a similar vision. The Ak-Chin team has been great to work with and I think they’re real happy with us too.”

Grossberg is one happy camper indeed, even though he avoids our closing question about whether his heart is still with the movies or he has converted to laser tag operator. “I absolutely love the idea of multiple entertainment options. I think that is the direction we are going to take in the future. We are working on two other, almost identical projects right now,” he shares with our readers. “I cannot announce them yet, but we are very, very close to finalizing the first, with the second following soon thereafter. We want to bring our Multi-tainment Centers into more populous areas. If it is doing this well in a small community like Maricopa, it will be just fantastic in larger cities.”

“It has definitely become a destination,” Grossberg reiterates the overall draw of Multi-tainment. “Our first year out of the gate, we have far exceeded our initial expectations. What makes the Multi-tainment Center interesting is that everything feeds off each other. Fortunately, for us,” he elaborates, “Maricopa didn’t have very many restaurant options. Mostly fast food and one or two family-owned restaurants. By putting in our casual gourmet, and more upscale restaurant, we definitely grabbed a huge customer base right from the start. While they were there to eat, they began to discover the other options. Just like the people who were going to the movies ended up playing arcade games or went for a round of bowling. We also attract a large adult crowd with our 21-and-over Star Class theatres and the Luxe Lounge, of course.” The entertainment focus is the perfect complement to the hotel and casino next door, he has observed. “We didn’t want it to be just a movie theatre. We didn’t want it to be just a bowling alley. We truly wanted it to be a center for film, fun, food and Multi-tainment."