The thundering march of the mega-plex theaters is continuing along the Wasatch Front.
Cinemark USA announced Monday it will build a 15-screen complex at the downtown Crossroads Plaza, providing moviegoers with stadium seating, wall-to-wall screens and digital sound. Also included at the Cinemark at Crossroads will be a Cinemark IMAX 3D Theatre, which allows customers wearing special polarized glasses to view movies with a three-dimensional effect.Randall L. Hester, Cinemark vice president of marketing and communications, said construction will begin in spring 2000, with an expected Christmas opening. Hester estimated the project will cost at least $10 million.
The location is still in the discussion stages, said John Gerdes, director of retail for L&B Realty Advisors Inc., the company that manages Crossroads. Gerdes said one option is to build the complex on top of the existing parking facility.
L&B Realty is aware of parking concerns a 15-theater complex would raise, but Gerdes said it is possible additional parking will be added to accommodate theatergoers and shoppers alike.
"I don't think parking will be a problem, but it might be an opportunity to add some more parking in general as a part of this addition to the center," he said. "We might look at adding some additional parking, not only for the theater, but for all of downtown as well."
Though there are already theaters within the mall, including a three-screen Loews Cineplex complex, Gerdes said none have expressed a desire to relocate yet.
The Crossroads complex is one of several projects Cinemark has planned along the Wasatch Front, and it is part of a marketwide shift toward multiscreen mega-theaters. In the past two years alone, Cinemark has announced, begun or completed construction on multiscreen theaters in Ogden, Layton, West Jordan, Provo and Salt Lake City.
Cinemark's Hester said his company is "definitely" targeting Utah communities.
"If we're not, then we've missed the target," Hester said. "We've got a 100,000-square-foot theater under construction right now in West Jordan, and another in Provo. We hope to open both in the fall. So yes, we're definitely targeting that area. You've got a lot of families, and they're great movie-goers. But what you don't have is a lot of state-of-the-art stadium seating, digital sound theaters."
Bigger screens, better seating and a wider selection of films have contributed to the proliferation of multitheater complexes, Gerdes said. It is a signal of changing times -- changes Gerdes welcomes.
"I'm absolutely excited. Crossroads has for years been focused on providing first-class shopping in Salt Lake City. This Cinemark is the first step in redefining Crossroads and the entire downtown area," he said.
"The biggest change, however, is that people are interested in going back to the movies. And the stadium seats are wonderful for comfort. No one gets a bad seat. I think they're the wave of the future."
Greg Tanner, owner of the Tower Theatre, 925 E. 900 South, said the multiplex theaters do not pose much of a threat to his more specialized movie offerings, but he is disturbed by the proliferation of big theaters.
"It's an obvious labor-saving device for the big theater chains, and it has driven out many independent theater owners across the country," Tanner said. "They tend to soak up the available audience.
"It is disturbing because it is another indication of the homogenization of America, and where local retailers are being forced out of business by large national or international chains."
Cinemark isn't the only company scrambling to get its share of Utah's movie market.
Duaine Rasmussen of Johansen-Thackery, a developer that has teamed with the Boyer Co. on the Chimney Ridge project in Murray, confirmed Monday that Edwards Cinemas will build a 22-screen, 105,000-square-foot complex on site.
Construction at Chimney Ridge, the site of the old American Smelting and Refining Co. at 5100 S. State, has been delayed pending remediation of environmental contamination. However, Rasmussen said he expects the project to move forward within the next 30 days. Tentative opening is planned for the fall of 2000.
By the end of October this year, Larry H. Miller hopes to launch his own 17-screen multiplex theater, including a 70-millimeter screen that will be used to show documentaries and other educational films.
Unlike the other movie theater monoliths, the 5,000-seat Miller complex -- which is part of the 10-story Jordan Commons building under construction at 9400 S. State -- will be independently run.
G. Stephen Tarbet, chief financial officer for the Larry H. Miller Group's real estate division, said the decision not to affiliate the theater with a big chain was based on Miller's continuing desire to branch out.
"Mr. Miller is always looking for ways to diversify and have businesses that might not all follow the economic curve the same way," Tarbet said. "That way, for example, if the car business is down a little, maybe the movie business will be up, and vice versa. But really, this is just a way to diversify, and provide a nice facility for family entertainment."