New view in Xanadu

Gotham megaplex will finally open in 2008

So far, the Meadowlands Xanadu megamall project just outside Gotham is anything but an idyllic retreat. In fact, thanks to litigation and financal hangups, the project is little more than a giant hole in the ground.

But Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based exhib Muvico pledges that despite downsized ambitions, projectors will finally roll in 2008 in what was originally billed as the largest megaplex in North America.

Mills Corp., the once-unstoppable real estate investment trust that developed dozens of megamalls stretching from Arundel Mills in Maryland to California’s the Block at Orange, broke ground in 2005 on the 5 million-square-foot Xanadu.

It was to be the epitome of the company’s “shoppertainment” motto, with only 10%-15% of its space designated for “pure retail.” The rest would be immersive entertainment, with a ski dome, a chocolate waterfall, a digital playground designed by Circuit City and fashion runways. The movie complex, with 26 screens, a helipad and a rooftop screen, would plug directly into the concept.

Then things got complicated.

Mills, beset by an SEC investigation and financial woes, flirted with bankruptcy before two takeover bids were launched, the latest Feb. 5. Before that drama, Mills sold its stake in Xanadu to Colony Capital.

Separate from the project as a whole, which also has faced lawsuits and controversy over a neighboring stadium project for the Giants and Jets NFL teams, Muvico was adjusting to a more austere exhibition environment. AMC had merged with Loews and the megaplexing ethos of Muvico was suddenly much less in vogue.

Industrywide, the number of screens per location rose 24% from 1999 to 2005, according to the National Assn. of Theater Owners, which has started preaching about managing capacity. “The days of the 26- or 30-screen theater are numbered,” says Muvico VP John Spano.

That’s a stunning pronouncement coming from Muvico, a quirky 249-screen circuit founded in 1984 by Iranian immigrant Hamid Hashemi, then 25. He was fired in 2006 by the company’s board amid a bitter takeover battle.

Under Hashemi, Muvico averaged nearly 20 screens at each of its lavishly appointed locations. One of the best known is the Egyptian, a 24-screener at Arundel Mills that frequently rates as one of the nation’s top grossers.

Xanadu won’t lack for old-time showmanship. Half of its 18 screens, spanning 700 seats, will be premium-concept, with ticket prices of $18 and $20 covering parking, reserved seats and popcorn. A 10,000-square-foot restaurant will afford views of Manhattan, just four miles beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows.

“We expect it to be high-volume,” Spano says. “As we looked at how things were developing, we certainly wanted to make sure it fit with our new strategy, and we’re confident with this plan.”

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