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Downtown: A Theater Near You?

The size of the potential theater hasn’t been decided — it could include anywhere from four to 20 screens — and the city won’t release the locations being explored, or the companies involved. Woodward says the “cinema interests” are looking generally in the north and western sections of the city, and the biggest issue concerns parking. For a larger multiplex, developers would need in the neighborhood of 8 acres or be forced to build a parking deck, something retailers generally don’t like.

“They have rather large requirements,” Woodward says.

For the last couple of years, the city has courted movie-theater developers on Broad Street — where the new Lowe’s now sits — and at other sites near the riverfront. While past deals have fizzled, the renewed interest stems in part from the downtown apartment boom, recent activity around the convention center and Brown’s Island.

Local developers and real estate agents say the downtown market is ripe for a first-rate movie house. With ticket prices rising and movie producers moving to digital formats, Richmond-area moviegoers have largely migrated to one of two multiplex theaters in the area — the new Regal Cinemas in Short Pump or the Commonwealth 20 off Hull Street near Brandermill. (The other theaters in city limits are Regal Westhampton Cinema 2, which focuses on independent and foreign films, and the Science Museum of Virginia’s Ethyl IMAX Dome.)

“It makes eminent sense,” says Richmond developer Bob Englander. “A six-to-10 screen theater makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.”

Brian Glass, director of retail brokerage for Grubb & Eillis/Harrison & Bates, concurs. “I think it could work,” he says. “It’s going to be the site that determines what you could put on it.”

The developers have looked at potential sites near the riverfront, sources say, including the old Reynolds Metals property on Byrd Street — Alcoa Inc. still uses the building as a manufacturing plant — and perhaps inside the planned Performing Arts Center on Broad Street. But nothing concrete.

In late June, City Councilman Bill Pantele and City Manager Calvin Jamison took an idea-gathering field trip to Charlottesville for the day to visit the five-screen Regal Cinemas in that city’s downtown mall, Pantele says. “The fact of the matter is there is an obvious market demand for this.”

Neither Pantele nor Woodward would comment on the theater chains involved, but observers say the likely candidates are Regal Entertainment and Loews Cineplex Entertainment. Dick Westerling, a spokesman for Regal in Knoxville, Tenn., says the company’s real estate officials have visited the metro area in the last few months to discuss potential theater sites with local developers. But he said there no formal plans to build a new theater in the area. — Scott Bass

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