Pacific teams with Reading

L.A.-based Pacific Theatres Corp. will partner with Reading Cinemas of Philadelphia in a $ 100 million-plus construction/acquisition program aimed to double outlets of the 300-screen Pacific chain.

It marks the first venture-capital exposure in the entertainment arena for the publicly traded Reading, the diverse investment company formerly with railroad ties.

The company’s new division has been established with former Loews Theatres president Robert Smerling at the helm.

“What it represents is a major expansion program and the resources to do it,” Pacific president Jerry Forman said. “Reading will be involved in all new development. It’s a joint venture, rather than coming in as a company investor. They are not involved with our existing sites.”

The first complex to break ground will be a 15-screen operation in San Rafael in Marin County. Pacific, concentrated inCalifornia and Hawaii, is the dominant exhibitor in Marin and San Diego counties, as well as the islands.

Forman said an additional five or six projects could go in the next six months. Company plans anticipate 75 new screens in the next 12-18 months.

There are no set plans for acquiring existing theaters or smaller chains. But Forman said Pacific is interested in expanding geographically, noting that in the past 10 years limited-screen webs increasingly have sold out to larger operations and that consolidation has had a palpable effect on exhibition.

Pacific, founded 50 years ago by William Forman, is one of the few remaining privately held family theater chains. Michael Forman, Jerry’s cousin, is chairman of the company.

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