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Cineplex is offering more than films

November 12, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

Ticket sales for the Hagerstown 10 Cineplex can be an inconsistent source of revenue, so the owner is trying to diversify services with video game tournaments, concerts, holiday celebrations, battles of the bands, flea markets, comedy acts and roller derbies.

Alan Ackerman is banking on the offerings financing his plans for the physical property, which include installing a custom-built drive-in screen next year, opening a cafe, and establishing private viewing suites with hostess service. He also would like to add theaters in the back as well as an IMAX screen, which he wants to surround with at least 2,000 seats for digital concerts.

"I felt, 'You know what? It's time to use everything we have,'" Ackerman said, talking about the unused portions of the 20-acre site.

Ackerman, the father of three children, said he's keeping alcohol off the Leitersburg Pike premises, asking comedians to watch their language, creating a waiting area for parents and staying mindful of prices.

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"I wanted to do it differently. Because I'm a parent, I really have the families and kids in mind," Ackerman said.

Ackerman's also looking to the past.

A 40-foot-tall screen being fabricated in Ohio has been designed from original plans to allow the theater to "rebuild the old Hagerstown drive-in the way it was in 1966," Ackerman said.

The screen, more than three times the size of a billboard and transported in pieces on a flatbed trailer, should be in use no later than June 2007, he said.

"They will erect the screen here on site. It only takes three days to do it," Ackerman said.

The cineplex had used an inflatable screen this past season, and it was set up for a video game tournament earlier in November. For tournaments, couches will be taken to the parking lot for players to compete using wireless controllers.

"The players are 20 and 30 feet tall on the screen," Ackerman said.

He said he hopes to install even more screens over the next couple of years.

In 1970, a two-screen cineplex opened at the Md. 60 location. The drive-in closed in 1984, but eight more theaters were added, Ackerman said.

The owners built a covered hallway and a separate box office with the intention of adding theaters in the back, he said.

"Well, I'm doing it," Ackerman said, identifying the project as his "big goal."

Another ambitious endeavor is the IMAX screen he wants to maintain and use for digital concerts starting in 2008. The closest IMAX screens, which are up to eight stories high, are in Chantilly, Va., Harrisburg, Pa., Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., according to the IMAX corporate Web site.

Ackerman said attendance at the theater's Saturday night concerts has been varied but generally increasing.

The music tends to be rock or classic rock, and the event is geared to 16- to 20-year-olds who can drive but not drink alcohol.

The 800-seat theater now has a stage, theatrical lights and a sound system with heavily insulated walls.

"I'm running concerts here New Year's Eve and there's no alcohol. I'm soliciting AA groups," Ackerman said.

Ackerman, two managers and 23 employees have been shuffling all the projects at the cineplex - which Ackerman admits he didn't necessarily want.

Instead, he had wanted to run a drive-in but took on both sides of operations early this year at the request of the previous owner.

Now, he's looking for a mix that works.

"I figured if I was going to do it, it had to be different. It couldn't be a 'me too' with the guy down the street," Ackerman said.

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