Loews theater deal off at mall

Movie house slump blamed as Columbia pursues expansion

Entertainment

September 16, 2000|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Plans have fallen through for a multiscreen movie theater that was to have been built outside The Mall at Columbia, according to the Rouse Co.

"There have been problems within the theater industry," Nancy Tucker, a spokeswoman for Rouse, said yesterday. "We last negotiated a deal with Loews, but they have notified us ... that they're not going to proceed with the deal because of those problems."

Tucker said that, initially, General Cinema Theaters Inc. was signed up to open the movie theater by the mall, but backed out. Rouse then negotiated a deal with Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corp., which also backed out, she said.

Other expansion and renovation plans at the Columbia mall, meanwhile, are moving ahead.

Officials at General Cinema and Loews could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

"We'd love a full-blown, multiscreen cinema," Tucker said, "but right now it's not coming around."

As for the property where the cinema was expected to go, Tucker said Rouse is waiting to see what happens with the movie theater industry. "We're sort of biding our time and seeing how the industry comes out of their slump," she said.

Over the past several years, theater chains have rushed to build multiscreen complexes with stadium seating. As a result, there are too many seats, and not enough people filling them, said Kevin Kuzio, a media and entertainment analyst at KDP Investment Advisors in Vermont.

"As the industry became overbuilt, everybody cut back on their expansions and most everybody, to the extent they could, cancelled projects that were in development," Kuzio said.

Yesterday, GC Companies Inc., the operator of General Cinema, told U.S. regulators that it was considering several strategic alternatives, including bankruptcy protection. The company reported a $10.1 million loss for its fiscal third quarter, which ended July 31, on revenue of $108.6 million.

GC Companies operates more than 1,000 U.S. movie screens, including megaplexes whose construction costs have weighed heavily on the company's financial performance. Shares closed yesterday at $7.625, down $1.125.

Despite problems with the planned theater, and the previously disclosed pullout of a planned Bibelot bookstore, the mall's expansion is under way.

Construction has begun for an L.L. Bean store, scheduled to open in May.

P. F. Chang's China Bistro, Z Tejas Grill and a third restaurant, which has not yet been determined, will open outside the mall. Tucker did not know when the restaurants would open, but said steel framing is already up for two of them.

Since the end of June, bebe, Banana Republic, Thomas Kincaid Light View Gallery, Stone & Co. shoe store, Master Cuts hair salon, a Wizards of the Coast board game store, a VoiceStream Wireless cellular phone store and Build-A-Bear, a store where children design their own teddy bears, have opened.

The Picture People, which takes children's photographs, has also been renovated. And Guess Kids is scheduled to open by the holiday shopping season, Tucker said.

The new food court at the mall is to open in mid-November, Tucker said. And come Nov. 1, the mall will be starting a coat and package-checking service on the first floor.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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