Inner Harbor East to get art house theater

Madstone to open complex next year in H&S project

March 05, 2003|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Coming soon to Inner Harbor East: an art house theater that caters to a sophisticated urban crowd that likes to drink wine and discuss films.

Madstone Theaters will open six or seven screens next year in Baltimore and become the city's fourth theater, the New York-based company announced yesterday.

The theater will be part of the expansive development of apartments, hotels and shops along the harbor, anchored by the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel and constructed by bakery magnate John Paterakis Sr.'s H&S Properties Development Corp.

"We looked at the overall area, the density of well-educated, sophisticated people and thought they could benefit from and would enjoy an independent film theater and related experiences," said Chip Seelig, Madstone's chief executive. "We'll have a cafe and wine and beer, and they'll have a place to linger after the movie. We see a movie as a six-hour experience: two hours seeing it and four hours talking about it."

The theater will be built on a parking lot across from Whole Foods market and among several new restaurants, which are other pieces of the upscale, urban development that H&S is building.

Seelig expects the theater to fit into the H&S project, which is slated to get more trendy retail shops and restaurants as well as offices, apartments, a businessman's hotel and a Four Seasons resort hotel.

Madstone was founded in 2001 in New York by Tom Gruenberg and Seelig, a former Goldman Sachs executive. The company operates seven theaters in urban and suburban locations, mainly in and around second-tier cities, including Cleveland; Denver; Phoenix; San Diego; Raleigh, N.C.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Albuquerque, N.M. Two other theaters are in the works in Atlanta and Salt Lake City.

The Baltimore theater will be the first that Madstone will build from the ground. Its others were redeveloped from old theaters abandoned by larger companies that moved into the multiplex arena -- many to their peril. Many theaters and large theater companies suffered in the 1990s from an saturated market and had to close their doors.

Madstone, financed with private equity, hopes to avoid the pitfalls of overdevelopment by choosing locations carefully based on demographics that show a solid base of the older, educated moviegoers. So far, the company has not opened more than one theater in the same city.

Baltimore has three other movie theaters: the Charles Theatre, the Senator Theatre and the Rotunda Cinematheque.

Harbor Park, a nine-screen theater at Market Place and Lombard Street and the city's only downtown cinema, was closed by United Artists in March 2000.

"We're in a difficult business," Seelig said. "The traditional movie theater business is a real estate business. The products are Hollywood icons. ...The Mexican with Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt was going to play on 3,000 screens, so the choice is who has the nicest theater closest to me. We will try and have more unique products and listen to the audience and give them programming they want."

Michael S. Beatty, head of H&S Properties, said he had been working on a theater for the Inner Harbor East site for about six years.

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