‘Matrix’ opens Pacific’s multiplex

Venue offers 24/7 automated ticketing

Talk about opening with a bang.

One of the 3,603 theaters playing Warner Bros.’ megahyped “The Matrix Reloaded” beginning tonight is a brand new Pacific Theaters 12-screener in Culver City. Part of the Screenland retail redevelopment project in Westside burg’s smallish downtown, the multiplex will definitely have clean auditoriums and restrooms for its grand opening.

But will its projection booths be ready for primetime?

“We’ll be ready,” said Nora Dashwood, Pacific’s chief operating officer. “We’re extremely lucky to have a film like (‘Reloaded’) to open the theater and are quite excited.”

The Pacific venue will make history as the first U.S. theater to offer 24/7 automated ticketing from six kiosks at the site. The innovative technology, which will accept cash or credit cards, allows walk-up ticketing with no telephoned arrangements required unless the patron prefers to call ahead.

Dashwood said parking should be adequate from day one, though a new multilevel lot is still under construction and won’t open until June. Patrons will be directed to a pair of existing lots on nearby streets, with Pacific offering patrons four hours of free parking with theater validation.

Follows Grove

The new Culver City theater follows Pacific’s opening last year of the hugely successful Grove 14 in midtown L.A. and the reserved-seating ArcLight 14, which has been holding its own in the Hollywood exhib zone. Recent suburban openings include Pacific’s Galleria 16 in Sherman Oaks and its Paseo 14 in Pasadena.

Meanwhile, stadium seating is still something of a novelty within the city limits, and that’s helped drive interest in the newly opened venues, which feature such amenities. Pacific has been the most active circuit locally in opening new venues, but other chains are also interested in exploiting the stadium-seating trend:

  • Mann Theaters is currently mulling a stadium retrofit of its 1,100-seat Mann National monoscreen in Westwood. If greenlit, the $5 million project would produce the nation’s largest stadium-seating venue.

  • AMC Entertainment is retrofitting its 14-plex in Century City with a stadium design and on June 20 will open a new 16-screen stadium-style venue in Burbank.

  • Landmark Entertainment plans a redo of its current Westside theater with an arthouse multiplex featuring stadium seating.

  • And officials in Santa Monica have been discussing the prospect of AMC or others retrofitting older properties on the popular 3rd Street Promenade, or even building new stadium-seat venues nearby.

2nd stadium-seat venue

Pacific’s Dashwood noted that the new Culver City theater will give the Westside just its second stadium-seat venue, along with National Amusement affiliate the Bridge. “It’s a big plus,” she said.

In addition to “Reloaded,” the Culver City theater is set to unspool 20th Century Fox’s bowing romancer “Down With Love,” Miramax’s bowing kids tooner “Pokemon Heroes,” Fox Searchlight’s femme-soccer drama “Bend It Like Beckham” and Warners folk-music spoof “A Mighty Wind.” Dashwood said the venue will likely continue to feature some number of arthouse and specialty titles, along with the biggest commercial releases.

Privately held Pacific emerged from the industry’s recent fiscal hard times relatively unscathed, in part because of a cautious approach to expansion — its flurry of recent L.A.-area activity notwithstanding. The 57-year-old company has remained concentrated in California and Hawaii, and owns a majority of its theater properties in contrast to the long-term lease arrangements favored by other exhibs.

Managing for now

So far, Pacific has agreed only to manage the Culver City theater for developer OliverMcMillan at the Screenland multiplex, but that could change if the venue succeeds as hoped. Pacific didn’t buy its Grove multiplex until the theater and its surrounding retail development proved an unqualified success.

Exhibition analysts say property ownership is especially beneficial in hard times.

“You have substantially more volatility in your profitablity when you lease an asset rather than owning it outright, because you have a huge rent payment you have to make (even) when you have a lousy box office,” said Bryan Krug of Waddell & Reed in Overland Park, Kansas.

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