WB, Par halt sale of exhibitor

Lewine backs out; activist sez Mann mismanaged

Warner Bros. and Paramount have taken Mann Theaters off the sales block after the collapse of a bid by previous circuit owner Jeff Lewine and the lack of other attractive offers.

Lewine, a Pittsburgh-based businessman who owned the circuit until a 1999 bankruptcy filing, had been trying to put together a financing package to support his reacquiring most of Mann’s 171 screens. The prospect of his regaining control of the beleaguered circuit had some interested parties concerned, but Warners was especially eager to unload its stake if a deal with Lewine could be sealed.

In the end, Lewine apparently was unable to secure necessary backing for his bid. Lewine was unavailable Monday, and studio reps declined comment.

Other suitors rumored to be interested in the circuit included No. 1 U.S. exhib Regal Entertainment. But a source close to the current owners suggested the studios were hesitant to hand over Mann’s prime Westwood screens to a company with as much market clout as Regal, which owner Philip Anschutz has expanded to almost 6,000 screens through a series of acquisitions.

On the periphery of the situation are neighborhood activists, who were aghast at the prospect of Lewine’s return but hesitant to endorse the status quo. Longtime Westwood activist Steve Sann said Warners and Par have too often emphasized their own distribution interests over those of the moviegoing public at local Mann venues.

“We just hope that whoever operates these theaters will operate them at the highest level possible,” Sann said. “For many years, the management of Mann Theaters didn’t pay enough attention to treating the properties as they should be run.”

Studios’ aborted proposed deal with Lewine would have given him ownership of all of Mann theaters except Hollywood’s Mann Chinese properties (Daily Variety, Jan. 31). Along with the storied Chinese with its six-screen addition and Mann’s five lucrative Westwood properties, the 29-year-old circuit also has three theaters located elsewhere in California and three in Colorado.

As recently as May, Lewine insisted he was “ready to go” with financing for a bid to reacquire the circuit (Daily Variety, May 23). But sources elsewhere suggested a range of problems unrelated to Mann hindered Lewine from concluding the transaction.

A source close to the current owners suggested the studios may again field offers for the circuit “when market conditions make it attractive to do so.”

Chain not so rusty

Meanwhile, Warners and Par may not be thrilled about their continuing need to run Mann — through Encino-based circuit parent WF Cinema Holdings — but there’s broad belief the circuit is in better shape today than when it fell into their hands via the ’99 bankruptcy. That’s mostly due to the sale or closure of some older, underperforming Westwood screens.

Mann shuttered the Mann Quad four-screen and off-loaded the single-screen Regent theater to Landmark, which is making an impressive go at operating the 400-seat property as a specialty venue. The Quad closure has lowered the neighborhood’s collective seat count well below a 6,030-patron limit, thus triggering some speculation an exhib will propose new theater construction in the area.

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