Originally created 09/13/98

Augusta to get stadium-seat movie theater



If negotiations between developers of the Augusta Exchange shopping center and an unnamed movie theater company work out, Augusta could get its first stadium-seating theater within the next year.

Jim Timberlake, developer of the Augusta Exchange shopping center, says he plans to bring a stadium-seating theater here, although he won't announce with whom he is talking until he has a signed contract.

But, he said, a deal definitely is in the works.

Rumors about a new theater have been circulating in movie industry circles.

Scott Bagwell, manager of two-year-old Evans 12 movie theater, says he has heard that a new theater may be coming. But he is not concerned. He believes his customers will still come to the Evans theater, he said.

In stadium-seating theaters, seats are arranged like in a sports stadium. As a moviegoer steps away from the screen, he also goes up. Each row of seats is elevated like steps, so each row has an unobstructed view of the screen.

"It's a great thing," said Randy Hester, vice president of marketing and communications of Dallas-based Cinemark Theaters. "Have you ever been to a theater and you can't see? It eliminates that."

Mr. Hester would not indicate if Cinemark was going to build in Augusta.

Cinemark started building stadium-seating theaters about 2 1/2 years ago. Its latest one opened just before Labor Day in Fayetteville, about 20 miles south of Atlanta. The company now has two theaters in Fayetteville, the other is a conventional multiplex.

Theater chains have been building stadium-seating movie theaters since 1995. It has become the standard design for most major theater chains.

Mr. Timberlake's master plan for the shopping center places the new theater on the east side of the Robert C. Daniel Jr. Parkway, across the street from the Target store. The plans show a 83,421 square-foot building with 18 screens, 4,405 seats and 1,439 parking spaces.

But those numbers could change.

The first stadium-seating theaters in the United States were built by AMC Theaters in Dallas.

"Oh, it's very well received," said Brenda Nolte, an AMC spokeswoman in Kansas City. "The view line becomes much clearer."

But AMC does not plan to build a theater here any time soon, she said.

Neither does Columbus-based chain Carmike, controller Philip Smitley said.

Regal Cinemas, which has one theater in Augusta, the Augusta Village at the Augusta West Plaza shopping center, would not return several messages to the company.

Regal recently merged with Act III theaters to form one of the largest movie-theater chains in the world.

Loews Theaters, based in New York, opened the first stadium-seating theater in the Atlanta area about three years ago. It is the chain's only theater in Georgia, but the company plans to build another one in the Atlanta area soon, said company vice president of advertising Marc Pascucci.

The Loews chain build now only builds stadium-seating theaters.

"They make movies larger than life," Mr. Pascucci said.

There is one disadvantage to building a stadium-seating theater.

It costs about 20 percent more to build than a conventional movie theater, Mr. Pascucci said.

But their popularity is what drives chains to construct them, he said.

"If a brand new stadium seating theater goes up in a market, obviously the new theater is going to attract the most business," he said. "That's the nature of competition."

But that does not necessarily mean that a stadium-seating theaters are instant successes, according to General Cinema spokesman Brian Callaghan. The Boston-based chain builds only stadium-seating theaters now.

A theater's success depends on what films are showing and where the theater is located, Mr. Callaghan said.

Ticket prices at stadium-seating theaters are not necessarily higher than at conventional theaters either, he said. Generally, the two ticket prices tend to be similar.

The Regency Exchange theater is a General Cinema.

"The state of Georgia is pretty important to us," Mr. Callaghan said.

But he would not indicate if the company had plans to build here.

"We're always looking for a good location," he said.