Loews eyes bidders

Field narrows as theater package price rises

Loews Cineplex Entertainment is close to a decision on the sale of 25 Gotham and Chicago theaters, with the final bidders including real estate developers, leveraged buyout firms and a small group of exhibitors, sources said Tuesday.

Loews is expected to make a decision about the sale by the end of the week with the price now expected to be in the upper end of the initial bids’ range of $75 million to $100 million.

The frontrunners are thought to include Clearview Cinema, bidding with the backing of its future acquirer Cablevision Systems Corp., and at least one unidentified leveraged buyout firm. City Cinemas, and United Artists Theater Circuit are also in the running, according to sources.

An agreement with federal and state antitrust authorities requires Loews to sell a total of 25 theaters in New York and Chicago as a condition of antitrust approval for the merger of Sony’s Loews Theaters and Cineplex Odeon Corp., which formed Loews Cineplex in May.

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Industryites said final bids, which came in last week, had been stronger than earlier anticipated. Some of the bidders have formed consortia to make their offers because Loews insists on selling the theaters as a package, and few of the bidders want all the theaters.

Clearview Cinemas, for instance, teamed up with New York area cabler Cablevision Systems Corp., even before Cablevision agreed to buy Clearview, because Clearview did not have the financial resources to make the bid on its own.

Some of the bidders have teamed up with unidentified real estate developers, highlighting the potential for some of the theaters to be redeveloped. While the antitrust approval requires the buyer to continue operating the theaters, that doesn’t preclude an extensive redevelopment of some sites alongside the theaters.

The 14 Gotham theaters operate a total of 36 screens. Most are small one- or two-screen operations, including such famous names as the Ziegfield and the Beekman; the biggest site is the nine-screen Chelsea theater.

A Loews Cineplex spokeswoman was not available for comment Tuesday.

(Andrew Hindes in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

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