Opening of cinemas to feature Jackson film

The opening of Regal Cinemas’ L.A. Live Stadium 14 on Tuesday with the first showings of Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” will mark a turning point for the revitalization of downtown L.A.

But the launch could also signal a shift eastward for Hollywood studios, which are looking for premiere venue options beyond Westwood and Hollywood.

L.A. Live is the first of a new wave of multiplexes opening across the L.A. Basin, where some neighborhoods sport aging plexes.

While some are skeptical whether the notoriously Westside-centric movie bizzers will make the trek downtown for preems, Anschutz Entertainment Group booked the L.A. Live plex for the opening of “2012” on Nov. 3.

The multiplex, Regal’s most expensive ever, features a larger auditorium designed for events, a separate entrance for stars and party facilities. A covered walkway connects the plex to a Ritz-Carlton hotel that will open in February.

To give the multiplex as splashy a bow as possible, AEG decided to push up the opening to tie into the premiere of the Jackson concert pic. Construction crews worked double and triple shifts to get everything finished in time.

The concert film will unspool on the multiplex’s 14 screens at 9 p.m., following the nearby Nokia Theater premiere. Fans camped out for days for the tickets, which sold out immediately last month. Plex opens for regular business the next day.

AEG expects the theater, operated by exhibition arm Regal, to draw moviegoers from Hancock Park, Pasadena, downtown and USC. Even competing exhibs don’t consider the location a major deterrent; they expect moviegoers to gravitate to L.A. Live, much the way they did to the Grove and CityWalk when they opened.

“I think it will affect Universal City, which affected the theaters on Hollywood Boulevard when it opened. The Hollywood crowd transitioned to Universal,” said Landmark Theaters CEO Ted Mundorff.

Laemmle Theaters prexy Greg Laemmle, who has long planned to shutter the chain’s downtown four-plex when Regal opens, cautioned against reading too much into the Grande’s struggles to draw a crowd in recent years. Located in the lower level of the Marriott Hotel, the Grande has been operated on a week-to-week basis for years; at 25, it wasn’t getting any younger.

“These kinds of things happen all the time,” Laemmle said. “Theaters open, and they close.”

Laemmle is looking to expand elsewhere, planning a seven-plex near the Metro red line in North Hollywood next year.

AEG could also benefit from the uncertainty surrounding several of the studios’ preferred premiere venues. Mann Theaters, a joint venture of Warner Bros. and Viacom, recently said it would not renew its lease for the Fox and Bruin in Westwood; it wouldn’t mind unloading the Chinese, either.

AEG is promoting catering by Wolfgang Puck and the fact that no street closures are required as further preem enticements. The company has been meeting with studios about additional premieres; a rep said they are eyeing it for junkets as well.

Old Pasadena’s been plex-less for several years, but Village Roadshow’s Gold Class Cinemas, opening Dec. 4 on Colorado Boulevard, will try to entice filmgoers to pay $20 or more for a premium moviegoing experience with access to food and drink service.

The Gold Class concept is popular in Australia and Asia but has struggled to gain traction Stateside at its two Washington and Illinois locations in this tough economy. Gold Class Cinemas CEO Kirk Senior acknowledges that educating the American consumer has been a challenge but says the company’s pleased with the reception so far.

“It would have been nice to launch the brand in better economic times,” he admitted, but then again, “no one could control or predict what happened in the U.S. this past year.”

Under a proposal favored by Santa Monica, AMC will build a 12-screen multiplex in a Fourth Street location that now houses a parking structure, closing its existing four-screen Loews/AMC Broadway theater and remodeling its AMC seven-plex to house fewer seats.

Santa Monica considers new theaters with state-of-the-art facilities essential to the health of the retail district. The city said movie attendance “has gradually declined from approximately 2 million patrons annually during the 1990s to approximately 1.4 million patrons in 2007″ — a 30% decline during a period when admissions fell less than 5% nationwide. Moviegoers have gravitated to complexes opened since 2002, including the Landmark in West L.A., the Grove, the Bridge and the ArcLight in Hollywood.

“If the local trend continues, Santa Monica is at risk of losing its ability to attract firstrun releases,” the city warned.

The Beverly Center’s multiplex, a Mann-operated theater which lost its mojo when the Grove opened, was handed over to Rave Motion Pictures in September to operate, but it remains to be seen whether that will turn around its fortunes.

Dallas-based Rave specializes in digital cinema, but the Beverly Center has yet to make the transition to the more high-tech format. It’s still figuring out future plans for the theater.

“We are providing management services for the theater but we don’t own it; it is not a Rave-branded theater,” said Jeremy Devine, VP of marketing for Rave Motion Pictures. “Right now we are helping out in film bookings and some computer support and a little to oversee operations.”

Mann, which closed Westwood’s Mann Festival in August, considers the single-screen business even more challenging than the multiplex biz — hence its decision not to renew the lease for the Fox and Bruin despite the popularity of the theaters as movie premiere destinations. Robert Buxbaum, owner of Westwood’s single-screen Crest Theater, has put it on the block as well.

In other words, it’s hard out there for the older screens.

(Justin Kroll contributed to this report).

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