Palace 9 cinema closing today

Move means town will be left with only one movie complex

September 27, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Loews Palace 9 movie theater in Columbia is closing today and will stand empty after 15 years in business, theater officials said yesterday.

The move, anticipated for weeks, will leave Columbia with one movie complex, the Snowden Square 14 - the type of high-tech, stadium-seating facility that has spelled economic doom for older theaters across the country in recent years. Meanwhile, demolition has begun on Columbia's first theater, the General Cinema three-screen building near The Mall at Columbia.

"Unbelievable. Boy, they sure don't give you much notice," said Kathleen Nolan, a Glenelg resident dismayed with the local movie scene.

Nolan and her husband will continue patronizing the Charles Theater in Baltimore, she said, for independent films unavailable at the megaplexes such as the 24-screen Muvico Theater at Arundel Mills. Nolan said her husband refuses to go to the big new theaters because of parking woes, long lines and poor selections.

Rouse Co. officials have reserved a site behind The Mall in Columbia for construction of a 10-screen theater, but the project will have to wait until economic conditions improve, company officials say.

Officials at Loews' regional office in Rockville and J.M. Schapiro, the landlord of the Palace 9 building, confirmed the theater's closing, and Schapiro said the building's future is very much in doubt. It is on Route 108 at Centre Park Drive.

"The tenant has the right to remove all [its] fixtures," said Schapiro, a vice president of Towson's Continental Realty. Finding a new operator willing to re-equip the theater and operate it in this slow economy would be "difficult," he said. Continental also owns the small shopping center next to the theater.

The irony, Schapiro said, is that the construction of Route 100 has spurred vigorous business growth and construction near the Palace 9 during the past three years.

"It's an excellent [business] location. It's better than when we opened in 1986," he said.

Theater chains have been closing all over the country, and Loews, which declared bankruptcy in February, has closed 146 theaters during the past two years.

Because of the bankruptcy, Schapiro said, his firm will no longer receive rent from the movie building, in contrast with the situation in Oakland Mills Village Center, where Metro Foods closed a supermarket but is obligated to pay rent on a 20-year lease.

He said his firm is working with consultants in the theater business to find a new operator, "but the fact that the equipment will be removed is going to make it very difficult."

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