Theaters at Kingsport Town Center may not meet scheduled opening date

Matthew Lane • May 13, 2013 at 2:54 PM

KINGSPORT — Frank Theatres will likely not reopen the theaters in the Kingsport Town Center by May 17 as announced earlier this year. A new target date is now scheduled for early June.

Jeff Fleming, assistant city manager for development, provided this information to the Kingsport Economic Development Board on Tuesday, saying he was not sure Frank would have the theater space ready for the May 17 reopening, noting painting has taken place and equipment has been installed, but the chairs have not yet arrived.

The closure of Marquee and the delay in reopening the theater has meant summer movie fans have had to go elsewhere to get their blockbuster fix of such films as “Iron Man 3,” “The Great Gatsby” and “Star Trek Into Darkness.” However, with an early June target date, moviegoers may have a shot at seeing “Man of Steel” at the mall when it opens nationwide on June 14.

“We have commenced the renovation and expansion of the former cinema and we are anxious to reopen as soon as possible,” said Jake Farver, vice-president of Somera Capital Management, the owners of the Kingsport Town Center. Calls to Frank Theatres were not returned last week.

Kingsport’s building department reports a building permit is not required for the renovations slated for the mall site; architectural drawings have been submitted, but plans for the concession area have not. Frank officials were in town earlier this month and met with building department officials regarding the project.

Last year, Marquee Cinemas announced it would be closing its current location in the mall and moving to a new, freestanding theater behind the Kmart Super Center off Stone Drive. Marquee closed its mall location on Feb. 1 and over a two-week period removed virtually all the fixtures inside.

While Marquee was working to transition out of the mall, Frank Theatres has been planning to move in, renovate the existing site and expand into the parking lot with a 40,000-square-foot, two-story addition. The addition would house a Red Brick Grille restaurant, arcade, 20 lanes of bowling and an 85-foot-tall IMAX theater that seats up to 400 people.

In April, Bruce Frank, president and CEO of Frank Theatres, said the existing 12-screen theater in the mall would be renovated over a five-week period with new carpet, curtains, seats, screens, projectors and sound system. Six of the 12 screens would be 3-D.

At that time, Frank said work on the expansion would begin this summer and be ready for business by Christmas 2013.

On the Marquee side of the equation, Curtis McCall, president of the company, said his project has been much slower getting off the ground than previously planned.

“We had to tweak our plans a little bit to conform with ADA requirements, and the bidding process took a little longer than we hoped. But we have picked a general contractor, Sparks Construction out of Knoxville,” McCall said. “The rain has just killed us, but we’re close to having the site finished with about two more weeks of work. We still hope to get started by the first week of June.”

If everything goes according to plan, McCall said its new theater would open in February/March of 2014.

Marquee’s plans call for a 43,000-square-foot facility with 12 theaters, a party room, arcade, concession and box office area and a centralized entrance. McCall said the smallest theater in the new facility would be around 115 seats with the largest in the 285-seat range; four theaters would be 3-D, several screens will be 50 to 55 feet wide with the big format screen being 60 feet wide and 35 feet tall.

“We’ll not have the IMAX, but we’re going to build something very similar. It will have all the qualities of IMAX and be compatible,” McCall said.

The KEDB has approved an $800,000 incentive package to Frank Theatres if it brings an IMAX to the Model City. The package was originally approved in June 2012 and has been extended twice since then.

McCall submitted a formal request to Fleming last month, asking that Marquee be considered for the incentive to develop an IMAX at its location.

“The mall theaters are still going to be the mall theaters and while they were great for us for 10 years, served the market well, they’re pretty small screens with minimal sound quality,” McCall said. “The biggest screen in the mall was 26 feet wide. Our smallest screen in the new building is about 35 feet wide. We’re going to be able to give a much better presentation, a much larger impact.

“We just wanted a better building and we think Kingsport deserves a better theater.”

Kingsport’s building department reports a grading permit has been approved for the Marquee site and building plans have been submitted, but a building permit has not been issued. The YMCA still owns the property where Marquee plans to build.

McCall said the option to buy the property is still good for the next two months and would take place before work begins this summer.

“We did not want to close on the property until we had to,” he said.

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