New multiplex coming to Inner Harbor East

A 7-screen art house is to open next spring

May 23, 2006|By LORRAINE MIRABELLA | LORRAINE MIRABELLA,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore will get its first new movie complex in more than 20 years next spring - a bet on downtown's growing lure as a place to live and play as well as work.

A seven-screen cinema run by Landmark Theatres, a chain devoted to art and independent films, will open next spring as part of the long-planned entertainment centerpiece in Harbor East, the $1 billion waterfront community east of the Inner Harbor.

The announcement was made yesterday by the developers, H&S Properties Development Corp. and Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse.

While the developers said they expect the new multiplex to become a key entertainment attraction, it also increases competition for the city's existing theaters, which target much the same audience.

Baltimore hasn't had a new movie theater since United Artists opened what was considered a showpiece, nine-screen theater at the Inner Harbor in 1985. But the theater gradually saw its customers opt for newer suburban theaters with stadium seating and easy parking. The theater fell into disrepair and closed in 2000.

But now, both Landmark and Harbor East's developers believe that the proliferation of upscale condos and the growth in downtown living will ensure suc- cess of a new cinema that will complement the Charles Theatre, the Senator and the Rotunda.

"There's room for another project to come in and a lot of movies out there," said Michael S. Beatty, president of H&S Properties.

H&S and Struever announced the lease signing yesterday from Las Vegas, where the International Council of Shopping Centers is holding its annual convention. "We think this is a great package."

Landmark, which opened its first art and independent film theater in Seattle 30 years ago, saw an opportunity in Baltimore to grow a chain that now spans both coasts, with 59 theaters in 23 markets.

The Los Angeles-based chain has two theaters in the region, one in Bethesda and another in Washington.

"We're very confident this is going to become the entertainment center of Baltimore," said Kevin Parke, president of Landmark Theatres.

"We think there's going to be a strong demand for these films," Parke said. "The definition of art and independent films has expanded, and now we have a broader audience for documentaries and independent studio productions. ... We feel like the base of consumers for independent films has broadened as well, as we've seen in D.C. Baltimore is another sophisticated city with a large group of people interested in seeing these films."

Competitors' view

But competitors said the new cinema will have an impact.

"It'll be harder for us, but we have low overhead, so we'll be able to survive fine," said James "Buzz" Cusack, a partner in the Charles Theatre, which has been a mainstay of the Station North Arts District since its renovation into a five-screen complex in 1999.

An additional theater, though, could make it tougher to get films, he said.

"A lot of these smaller movies don't want two prints out in the same area, so that could be difficult," he said. "Now, sometimes the Senator and we want the same movie and only one of us gets it."

Harbor East developers have long envisioned an art film theater as a key entertainment attraction of the mixed-use community, on the waterfront near Little Italy and Fells Point.

While other negotiations over the years with national or local theater operators never came to fruition, H&S Properties had always had its sights set on Landmark, the nation's largest chain devoted to art and independent films.

"We've always known we wanted a high-end art theater in the project," Beatty said. "From Day 1, Landmark was always that operator but we couldn't get them. As our project developed ... and we built more and more restaurants and retail, Baltimore got on the radar screen."

The 1,400-seat cinema will feature a lobby bar, gourmet concession stand, stadium seating and digital projectors. The theaters will vary in size, with the largest seating about 300, Parke said.

Other features

The multiplex will become part of a mixed-use block bordered by Aliceanna, Exeter, President and Fleet streets. Construction is under way on a Hilton Garden Inn and a Hilton Homewood Suites, 220,000 square feet of office space, 122 condos and 20 live-work lofts.

The block also will have 150,000 square feet of shops and restaurants and a health club.

Developers announced yesterday that Arhaus, a high-end home furnishing store, will open there, and City Sports, an urban sports retailer, will move there from a temporary address in Harbor East.

The earlier plans for a cinema at Harbor East had called for Crown Theaters to operate an 18-screen, 4,500-seat stadium style theater. About three years ago, Madstone Theaters planned to open a six- or seven-screen facility.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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