24-screen megaplex slated for Arundel Mills mall

Valet parking and child care also planned

Sixth anchor tenant

Commercial real estate

November 23, 1999|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

A Florida-based movie theater chain plans to build a 24-screen megaplex with child care and valet parking at Arundel Mills, the $250 million entertainment-oriented mall under construction near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Muvico Theaters will become the sixth anchor tenant announced by Mills Corp., the Arlington, Va.-based developer of the 1.4 million-square-foot megamall.

The fast-growing Fort Lauderdale chain will unveil its concept of an Egyptian-themed, retro movie palace today at the mall site on 400 acres near Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Route 100.

The theater -- the size of a Home Depot -- will have stadium seating and state-of-the-art sound and screens, which have become standard for the new generation of megaplexes cropping up around the Baltimore Beltway and nationally.

But Muvico also includes a playroom for children ages 3 to 8 staffed by certified teachers and assistants, said Hamid Hashemi, president and chief executive officer of Muvico, a 15-year-old private company.

The 5,000-seat theater will have Egyptian decor, complete with wall carvings, Hashemi said. Movie-goers will be greeted with music from the parking lot and welcomed by red-vested doormen.

"We create an atmosphere and an ambience," Hashemi said. "We're re-creating the movie palace of the '30s. The show starts from the sidewalk and puts you in a mood that's conducive to watching a movie."

Muvico, which operates six megaplex theaters -- those with at least 16 screens -- in Florida, is expanding in that state and moving into Tennessee and Maryland.

The company was attracted to the planned 220-store Arundel Mills because of its access to major highways and the developer's reputation for luring shoppers from long distances.

Arundel Mills, projected to open by next Thanksgiving, is expected to draw as many as 18 million local shoppers and tourists a year and have about 16 anchor stores with a heavy dose of entertainment. Mills announced the initial lineup of tenants at its June groundbreaking.

Tenants include Jillian's entertainment complex, with a restaurant, virtual rides, high-technology games and billiards; and Sun & Ski Sports, a skiing, snowboarding, cycling and in-line skating retailer that will feature a 20-foot rock-climbing wall and an in-line skate demonstration track. Other anchor stores include Bed Bath & Beyond and Iguana Merimex, which sells Mexican pottery and furniture.

Analysts had said Mills Corp. needed to sign more brand-name tenants within five months or so to meet sales and visitor projections, with at least one fashion anchor, such as Nordstrom Rack or Saks Off 5th.

The developer is close to signing up another four or five anchor tenants, said Dennis Connolly, Mills Corp.'s vice president and development director. As for the specialty stores, "most will be quite different from what you'd find at another regional mall, and many of them are big names you'll be familiar with."

Mills negotiated with major theater operators that showed interest in opening at the mall. But the developer chose Muvico based on the performance of a Muvico theater near a Mills project in South Florida, Connolly said. The cinema will anchor the entertainment end of the mall, an area with several sit-down restaurants and Jillian's, he said.

"Muvico was our choice because they bring a unique level of excitement," Connolly said. "Their concept is more advanced, in terms of its entertainment value, than some of the other cinema operators. We're trying to introduce more entertainment into each project.

"It bumps the level of entertainment up quite a bit, and that's what we were looking for."

The child care facility -- the first to be offered at a Baltimore area theater -- was also viewed as a plus for a mall developer that touts itself as family friendly. Muvico typically charges $7.50 per child, the price of a movie ticket, for three hours.

"It is very popular," Hashemi said. "We've provided that spontaneity that families lost when they had their children."

The chain got its start in 1984, by acquiring a three-screen theater in Coral Springs, Fla. The company operated nine theaters by 1995, then sold most of them to Regal Cinemas. The chain decided to develop a more efficient corporate structure, and in 1998 opened its first megaplex in Orlando.

Muvico is building eight more theaters, to open in the next year, and plans another 12 for 2001, including some in the Washington and Philadelphia markets. Hashemi said he expects expansion to continue on a pace of 10 to 12 theaters a year. The chain is negotiating for additional sites in the Baltimore region, where, Hashemi said, he envisions eventually running three to four more theaters.

That would represent a significant investment, said Alan S. Gould, a senior vice president with Gerard Klauer Mattison in New York, who estimated that Muvico will spend $18 million to $24 million on the Arundel theater. Megaplex theaters have expanded quickly over the past few years, but the growth has started to slow, as some chains have performed poorly, Gould said. Many of the largest chains have cut back on expansions, he said.

"The consumers love the new megaplex theaters, and attendance has been up each year for the past few years," Gould said. "However, the new theaters are cannibalizing the older nonmegatheaters. There are too many screens and too few pictures."

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