The National Association of Theater Owners in North Hollywood, California reports that the number of screens nationwide is on the rise. In 1996 there were 29,731 screens across the country; in 1997 there were 31,865. Gross revenue is also climbing nationally1997 saw a half a billion dollar increase over 1996.
Marc Pascucci, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corporationa company formed last year after the merger of Loews/Sony and Cineplex Odeon Corporationsaid the new theater design comes in response to market demand by creating economies of scale.
The megaplex is the new model for theaters, said Pascucci. We offer stadium seatingwhich means that each row is on its own riseroffering a clear shot to the screen. Its the design of the theater that draws the crowd. We have improved the experience of going to the theater so much. The smaller theaters cannot survive in this market because we are a business that relies on technology.
While Loews, National Amusement, and Regal Cinemas are eager to open their doors in Queens, many residents believe the new complexes will create enormous problems in their neighborhoods.
In Astoria, Bill Griffin, of the 38th Street Block Association, is collecting signatures for his petition against the 14-screen Regal Cinemas being built by Forest City Ratner. Over 150 community members have signed the petition which strongly opposes the traffic and the exit problem created by the multiplex.
The exit and entrance ramps to the theater parking lot are both on 38th Street, and Griffin thinks either the entrance or exit should be on 37th Street to avoid heavy traffic on 38th Street. There are houses on 38th Street and the congestion will be terrible, he said.
The multiplex, being built as-of-right, requires no zoning variance or approval from the community. The 38th Street Block Association has sent letters to Mayor Giuliani, City Councilman Walter McCaffrey, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney. The group also met with Borough President Claire Shulman. Still, the exit and entrance ramps remain on 38th Street.
There is nothing we can do to change the exit-entrance ramp situation, said Joyce Baumgarten, spokeswoman for Forest City Ratner. We already made some changes in the parking that residents wanted. We are sorry that some of the people are upset about this.
The 38th Street Block Association is not the only group opposed to plans for large theaters.
In Elmhurst, the $35 million project near the Queens Center Mall being developed by the Mattone Groupscheduled to be a Loews Cineplex Entertainment 18-screen megaplexis being met with resistance from Community Board four and a theater historian.
The Megaplex Millennium
The Elmhurst plan calls for the megaplex to be built on city-owned municipal parking lot #2. The 4,200-seat, 650-car, 18-screen parking complex calls for the demolition of the 71 year-old Elmwood Theater, which would be donated to St. Johns Hospital to use as a parking lot. Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corporation owns the Elmwood which currently shows five movies.
The Elmwood opened as the Queensboro Theater in 1928playing movies and serving as a vaudeville playhouse. It was the first theater in Queens built in the atmospheric style of theaters. According to Warren Harris of the Theater Historical Society, the atmospheric style was designed to make theatergoers feel as if they were outside.
Architecturally it was a first for Queens. You were inside but you looked up and it was like looking at the midnight sky. The stars were embedded in the ceiling, said Harris. Its one of the oldest theaters in Queens. I am saddened to think that it will close. It was the first theater that I ever knew.
On December 15, Community Board four held a public hearing to discuss the upcoming 18-screen Loews Megaplexdrawing over 70 concerned residents. The main issue for residents was the increased traffic and congestion.
We dont want this at all, said Rose Rothschild, district manager of CB4. This is the most congested spot in the neighborhood. Rothschild placed the blame on the developers plans.
This is the craziest thing I have ever heard. she said. I think we should throw water on Mattones face. Why cant Mattone do what Heskel Elias did in Forest Hills? He made the Midway theater bigger, didnt have to knock anything down and avoided congestion.
Forest Hills developer Heskel Elias, who owns the Midway, spent $10 million renovating, restoring, and revamping the well-known Forest Hills theater late last year. According to Elias, the response thus far has been tremendous. Over the holidays the theater grossed over $200,000.
I prefer to renovate rather than strip, like they are going to do in Elmhurst, said Elias. Thats not to say the project wont do well. I think the Loews Cineplex project will do fine. However the Georgia diner idea is out of character. If they build 30-screens on the site of the Georgia dinerthe two theaters will choke one another.
The Georgia Diner is less than a mile from the proposed 18-screen Loews megaplex in Elmhurst. AMC is considering a huge 6,000 seat, 30-screen megaplex to be built in the diners parking lot. The project has not been presented to any community planning boards.
It appears that the Georgia Diner project is not moving forward. It generated criticism from residents and presently is on the back burner, said Councilman John Sabini.
Despite ambiguity about the Georgia Diner site, the future of movies in Queens is certain. Multiplexes and megaplexes are achieving economies of scale, making smaller theaters obsolete. Soon the Elmwood in Elmhurst will be a parking lot, the Forest Hills Twin will be a Duane Reade, and Flushings RKO Keiths remains a shadow of its former self.
In 1943 there were 90 movie theaters in Queens.
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