- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Movie theater operators across the nation are closing venues as they emerge from bankruptcy and several years of bad luck.
But the reorganization may be good for the Washington area as the companies better focus on closing smaller, underperforming theaters and opening state-of-the-art multiplexes in underserved regions.
For example, Loews Entertainment Corp., the nation's fourth-largest chain and a major player in the area, has closed three District theaters in recent months. The chain now has six theaters in the city, dropping the total number of movie venues in the District to nine.
Loews most recently closed the Cineplex Janus, a three-screen theater north of Dupont Circle. Two months ago it shut the Georgetown Cineplex Odeon Foundry, a 20-year-old institution, leaving the neighborhood without a movie theater. Another goner is the Avalon Theatre on Connecticut Avenue NW, just below Chevy Chase Circle. It was 79 years old.
But while shedding older and smaller theaters, Loews has announced a new, 14-screen Georgetown location that is expected to open by Thanksgiving.
"What you're seeing is the closing of older-style theaters as the marketplace has moved towards newer theaters that feature stadium-style seating," said Rick King, spokesman for AMC Entertainment Inc., which has 12 locations in the area. "Today's audience is more concerned with comfort and presentation quality and sight lines than ever before, so some of the older theaters just don't measure up anymore."
Georgetown isn't the only neighborhood with relief in sight.
Germantown, a northern Montgomery County area with an exploding population, was long overdue for a movie theater. It finally saw the opening of Hoyts Germantown Cinema 14, operated by the Australian company Hoyts Cinemas Group.
Silver Spring, home to AMC City Place 10, is about to get two more venues. The downtown, in the midst of a revitalization, is expecting a stadium-seating theater to be built soon, and the American Film Institute's Silver Theatre and Cultural Center is expected to open a three-screen complex in the spring.
Theater owners are entering a much-awaited rebound after recent years of building expensive, state-of-the art theaters and not closing unprofitable venues quickly enough. The result was an overcapacity that pushed a number of major theater chains including Loews, General Cinema parent GC Companies Inc., Regal Entertainment Group Inc., United Artists Theatre Co. and Silver Cinemas International Inc. into bankruptcy.
"What's happened now is that they've come through the valley and have all significantly scaled back their expansion plans and new theater rollouts," said Kevin Kuzio, an analyst with KDP Investment Advisors. "But as they refined the plans for future growth, there still remain pockets of opportunity here and there for these companies to access markets for movies that are underserved."
Another big change in the local movie theater scene is the re-emergence of art houses.
Cinema Arts the oldest local art house and located in Fairfax was joined by Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge in Dupont Circle in August 2000.
Another alternative movie theater, Landmark's Bethesda Row, an eight-screen art cinema in downtown Bethesda, opened the first weekend of May. It is good news for the neighborhood, which in April 2001 lost the Bethesda Theatre Cafe, a movie house that had been a fixture on Wisconsin Avenue for more than 50 years.
"In the art house scene, with Landmark Bethesda coming to the metropolitan area, it has added a much needed presence for suburban Maryland moviegoing public," said Andrew Mencher, programmer at Visions and director of operations at a local theater club. "Obviously with Loews Cineplex closing theaters monthly at this point, the landscape is changing pretty dramatically. And I think there's only more to come more closings and openings."
The number of movie theater screens fell by 5.5 percent to 35,153 last year from 37,185 in 1999, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners, an industry trade group. Meanwhile, the number of locations shrank at an even faster pace by 17 percent to 6,246 sites last year from 7,551 theaters in 1999.
The theaters being closed are older, smaller theaters where the views were often anything but great. The venues replacing them are larger, stadium-seating facilities with concession stands that even offer Starbucks coffee.
This second type of theater is common to the suburbs where larger spaces are more affordable and easier to find but rare to the District. Until now.
AMC's Union Station 9 was the District's first large theater, opening in 1988. General Cinemas followed suit in January 2000 with the Mazza Gallerie 7 theater at Friendship Heights. That is now operated by AMC, the nation's second-largest movie theater chain, which bought General Cinemas in late March. The 10-screen theater at Springfield Mall is the other AMC convert.
"The major difference is that AMC had a lot of state-of-the-art theaters, 12 or 16 screens with nice sloped stadium seating," Mr. Kuzio said. "So they had a good product and they were very aggressive early on in getting rid of underperforming theaters."
Then there's the Georgetown Loews coming soon and the United Artists Theatres' 14-screen venue set to open at Gallery Place in fall 2003.

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