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Boom in cinema development called picture perfect

August 22, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

The closing of Cinema 3 in Valley Mall on Thursday night doesn't mean there will be a shortage of theaters in the Tri-State area.

There are at least 57 movie theaters in the region and 56 to 62 more on the drawing boards, according to theater officials.

"I think, in general, the industry is overbuilding right now," said Rusty Berry, owner of the Shepherdstown (W.Va.) Opera House. Berry said it seems most theater operators are competing to have 16-theater megaplexes.

Berry said he has serious concerns about the impact the new multiplexes and megaplexes will have on the small, historic one-screen theater that tends to feature smaller-budget, arty films.

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But Berry said he doesn't know if there's anything he can do about those concerns.

Several local theater operators were split over whether they thought the proliferation of theaters in the Tri-State area would affect their own operations.

Hoyts Martinsburg (W.Va.) 10, which opened its 10 screens in May, lowered its prices on Aug. 14 to $5 every seat, every show, after complaints from customers, said Melanie Mills, general manager. Regular prices had been $7 for adults and $5 for children and senior citizens, she said.

Mills said as long as the theater keeps its good rapport with customers it shouldn't be affected by new theaters planned in Washington County.

In addition to the 13 screens R/C Theatres already operates in the Hagerstown area, the Reisterstown, Md.-based company will open 16 more screens at Valley Mall by August 1999 if this winter is mild, said Wayne Anderson, chief operating officer.

Another 16 screens would come with the proposed Centre of Hagerstown shopping center at the interchange of Interstate 81 and U.S. 40, said Phillip L. Ross, director of the project's development firm. Ross has said he expects construction to begin in October, but the proposal still must be approved by the Hagerstown Planning Commission.

"Hagerstown is becoming the center of commerce for a broader region," said Ross, who is with Petrie Dierman Kughn.

Ross said expectations are that there will be demand for the center's theaters not only from Maryland, but also from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Ross would not say which company would operate the theaters.

Large theater complexes offer convenience in location and by running the same film on more than one screen, officials said.

By offering the same film on three or four screens at different times in the same theater complex, moviegoers won't have to worry about missing the start time, Ross said.

The large number of screens also will provide more film choices, he said.

Ron Formosa, senior general manager at Chambersburg (Pa.) Mall, said he wasn't concerned about losing movie customers to the proposed Centre at Hagerstown since people are too busy to travel far to see a movie.

Carmike Cinemas expanded its theater operations in the mall from four to seven screens in April, Formosa said.

"Right now the industry is going through a major expansion and rescreening process," replacing old theaters with features such as stadium-style seating and SurroundSound, said Phil Smitley, of Carmike Cinemas corporate offices in Georgia.

R/C Theatres is contributing $8 million to the new wing at Valley Mall, which includes its megaplex, Anderson said.

R/C officials expanded their original plans for 14 screens to 16 screens to meet industry-criteria to name it a megaplex instead of a multiplex and ward off competitors, Anderson said.

Anderson said it would be a "stupid business decision" for another firm to open a megaplex in the Hagerstown area since there's no way it could make money.

If another megaplex did open in the Hagerstown area, Anderson said all area theaters would suffer. R/C also owns the Hagerstown Cinema 10 and the three discount theaters at Long Meadow Shopping Center.

The megaplex at Valley Mall still will have an edge since it will have state-of-the-art features to carry it into the future when 35-millimeter film no longer is used, Anderson said.

The future is in movies being presented using a disc, fiber optics or satellite, which Valley Mall theaters will be equipped to handle, he said.

Like the Martinsburg 10 and the planned Centre at Hagerstown theaters, the Valley Mall theaters will feature stadium-style seating, SurroundSound, cup holders and concessions ranging from popcorn to gourmet coffees, officials said.

R/C officials also are negotiating to open a 24- to 30-screen theater complex at a new shopping and entertainment center in Urbana, Md., southeast of Frederick, Anderson said.

People spent almost $2 million at Washington County box offices and $2.8 million at Frederick County movie theaters last year, according to the Maryland Comptroller's Office.

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