WENATCHEE — Here’s a surprise: The hottest trend in the movie theater industry isn’t aimed at that youth audience so coveted by Hollywood filmmakers.
Instead, said Sun Basin Theatres’ general manager Bryan Cook, “we’re aiming at a more mature group who might want to relax before or after a movie and have a glass of wine with friends.”
That’s the theory, anyway, behind Cook’s plans to reserve two of the 14 auditoriums at the new Gateway Cinema 14 exclusively for grown-ups. The “cinebars,” as they’re called in the industry, will serve wine, beer and more upscale concession items both in the centralized lounge and in adjacent, 80-seat theaters.
“It’s sort of a grand experiment,” Cook said. “We certainly have to figure out what works best for this area. But I have high hopes that this will be an attractive option for adults who want a more relaxed, more comfortable movie experience — one that’s away from all the kids.”
On Wednesday, Sun Basin unveiled details of its planned renovation of the old Kmart building in north Wenatchee into a 14-screen multiplex. Construction would begin in September for an expected opening in May.
Preliminary plans show the two VIP theaters (21-and-older only) bracketing a plush lounge area complete with wine bar, tables, sofas and easy chairs. The auditoriums will include loveseat-style seating with tables.
Patrons will be able to order drinks and food both in the lounge and the theater. And popcorn and candy won’t be the only thing on the menu, said Cook. Think fondue, cheese-and-fruit platters and other dishes that go well with wine and chit-chat, he said.
“The idea is to create an inviting atmosphere where people can mingle,” said Cook. “Often after I see a movie, I want to sit and talk about it with friends, so we stand around talking in the parking lot for 20 minutes. We think the VIP theaters will offer an alternative.”
WENATCHEE — Welcome, movie fans, to the 21st century.
By this time next year, you could be sipping fresh-squeezed juice and munching healthier snacks while enjoying 3-D digital projection from stadium seating in a spanking-new movie auditorium.
You might also spice up that movie experience with a glass of local wine, an icy cold beer and hors d’oeuvres served right where you lounge in loveseat-style theater seats.
Sure, maybe in an upscale Seattle suburb. But in Wenatchee?
Yep. Area movie-goers should get ready for a major shift in how and where they enjoy Hollywood’s first-run fare, including the addition of two VIP theaters for a wine-sipping, adult-only crowd.
Wenatchee’s Sun Basin Theatres unveiled plans Wednesday for Gateway Center 14, a 14-screen multiplex at the north end of the city in the old Kmart building. Financing for the project is expected to be secured in mid-August with the sale of East Wenatchee’s Columbia Cinema property. Construction is set to start in September on the new multiplex, with screens lighting up in mid-May, just in time for 2011’s summer blockbusters.
Sun Basin’s Liberty Cinema in downtown Wenatchee will remain open and continue to operate.
The $8 million renovation project of the old Kmart will reroute many movie fans to the former retail building in the Olds Station shopping center, unofficially called Gateway Center. It will increase the number of movie screens in the Wenatchee area from 15 to 21, add 11 new digital projectors, and expand the number of available seats by the hundreds.
“We see this project as an opportunity to give this old shopping center a new injection of life,” said Sun Basin’s general manager Bryan Cook. “We’ll be offering a top-notch movie experience. But we’ll also be attempting to rebrand and re-energize this development as a vital retail center that serves all of North Central Washington.”
Announcement of the multiplex’s details follows a record-breaking year for Sun Basin in ticket and concession sales, Cook said. That mirrors 2009’s boffo box office receipts — more than $10 billion — for the movie theater industry in the U.S. and Canada.
The 107,000 square-foot Kmart building, owned by the state Department of Natural Resources until Sun Basin’s purchase last year, has been vacant since Kmart closed in 2006. The building is situated on 9 acres in a shopping center on Easy Street that includes Food Pavilion, Big 5 Sporting Goods and other businesses.
Sun Basin’s plans call for raising a portion of the building’s roof to accommodate stadium seating, using 60 percent of the expanded structure for a 14-screen multiplex and the other 40 percent for retail stores. Cook said interest in the retail space has been “active and encouraging.”
Opening the new multiplex comes at a cost, however. The Columbia Cinema in East Wenatchee will be closed following the sale of the property, said Cook. Proceeds from the sale will help finance the new multiplex, and equipment from the older cinema — digital projectors, popcorn poppers — will be used in the renovation.
A deal for the sale of Columbia Cinema will likely close in mid-August, said commercial real estate agent Dan Barr of East Wenatchee. After the sale, Sun Basin will lease back the property and operate the theater through the end of the year. A Spokane-based development company is expected to buy the 2.95-acre parcel, tear down the buildings and provide space for two or three retailers, possibly national chains, he said. The Columbia Cinema, located on Grant Road near Eastmont Avenue, opened in 1977 with three screens. Two more screens were added in 1984.
Also likely to shut down after this summer season, said Cook, is the 57-year-old Vue Dale Drive-In, 1546 S. Wenatchee Ave. One of only seven drive-in theaters statewide, the Vue Dale has “tremendous nostalgic value for many people who grew up in the Wenatchee Valley,” the Sun Basin manager said. “I talk to folks all the time who have wonderful memories of the seeing movies there with family and friends.”
But feeding the Vue Dale’s two screens with quality movies has proven more difficult in recent years, said Cook. Factors have included a shortage of drive-in movie fare, including family films, and the quick turnaround of movies from theaters to DVD.
The addition of screens at the Gateway multiplex could make it even tougher to find enough of the right titles for the drive-in crowd, he added.
Parts of the Vue Dale are likely to find new life in the Gateway multiplex, said Cook. The drive-in’s huge marquee — one of the oldest neon signs in the area, he said — could be incorporated into the new lobby’s decor. Old photographs, movie posters and other salvaged memorabilia could also make its way into the new theater’s design.
The multiplex’s floorplan also calls for a central seating area in the entrance lobby, a meeting room for conferences and parties, auditoriums outfitted with podiums and public address systems, a juice bar and an arcade. Audience capacities will range from 80 seats in the VIP theaters to nearly 300 seats in the largest auditoriums.
A satellite link on the building’s roof will allow for teleconferencing and the download of some digital features. Other movies will arrive on preloaded hard-drives, Cook said.
“This business is changing fast,” said the Sun Basin manager. “We don’t want to get left behind.”
The Wenatchee Valley Mall in East Wenatchee announced last year that a cinema complex would be part of its own current expansion and redevelopment plans, but so far details for a multiplex at the mall remain sketchy.
Mike Irwin: 665-1179