ORANGE — AMC Entertainment Inc. announced Monday that it will build Orange County's largest cineplex at The City, a now-vacant shopping center that's scheduled to be torn down in January.
With 30 screens and 6,200 seats, the movie complex will serve as the anchor for an 800,000-square-foot shopping and entertainment center planned by Mills Corp., a Washington, D.C.-based developer. The cineplex, which is slated to open in early 1998, will mirror the design of a sister theater that opens this week at a new Mills Corp. mall in Ontario.
In a related development, Mills Corp. on Monday announced that the mall's first two retail tenants--Sports Authority and Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet--have signed leases for the huge center that's scheduled to be open in late 1998.
Municipal officials are touting the $165-million shopping center redevelopment project--which will be called City Mills at Orange--as the cornerstone of a redevelopment effort in the southwestern part of town.
Earlier this year, the City Council and Redevelopment Agency approved a package of tax breaks designed to make the project financially attractive to Mills, which operates four major malls in Eastern states.
"This development is going to generate a lot of interest in that part of town," Mayor Joanne Coontz said. "And it will be a huge asset when it comes to generating sales tax receipts."
For AMC, the new cineplex represents a near-doubling of its theater count in the hotly competitive Orange County market. When the theater opens, AMC will have 75 screens in operation in the county.
The theater will be decked out with all of the newest attractions in the movie business, including love seats, amphitheater-style auditoriums, digital sound systems and three concession stands with 24 stations.
So far, the Irvine Entertainment Center, with 21 screens, is Orange County's biggest cineplex. But the county is awash in proposed theaters, and Kansas City-based AMC will find itself with plenty of competition for moviegoers' allegiances if all of the screens being proposed in northern Orange County are built.
Pacific Theatres wants to build a 25-screen theater at the now-closed Anaheim Drive-In, and Century Theatres has weighed in with plans for a 24-screen cineplex at the old Stadium Drive-In in Orange. Newport Beach-based Edwards Theatres Circuit has unveiled plans to expand its 10-screen presence in nearby Brea to 22 screens, and AMC is upgrading a 10-screen theater in Fullerton to include 20 screens.
"There's clearly an entertainment explosion going on," said Dick Walsh, senior vice president for AMC's western operations. "But we think we have a better mousetrap. And we don't think any of the other projects have the kind of synergy ours will with City Mills."
The 110,000-square-foot AMC theater is an integral element in Mills Corp.'s bid to make the City Mills project stand out among myriad regional malls--including nearby MainPlace Santa Ana--that dot Orange County.
When completed, more than half of the mall's 800,000 square feet will be dedicated to cinemas, upscale restaurants, a concert hall and other entertainment options.
While The City mall failed to attract and maintain a healthy base of consumers, both AMC and Mills Corp. say they're attracted to the site because more than 1.8 million people live within a 10-mile radius.
"We really think this site is at the center of the universe," said Laurence C. Siegel, chairman of Mills Corp., which owns four super-regional centers in the U.S.
"This is the best location we've ever had. In addition to that wonderful population base, we're just 2.5 miles from the main gate at Disneyland and all of the other tourist attractions in the area."
This holiday season's big retail story is the arrival of New York-based Bloomingdale's--which is opening four California stores this month, including a tony location at Newport Beach's Fashion Island.
But Mills Corp., which features upscale merchandise and a low-price strategy, is betting that consumers will be captivated by City Mills' blend of retailers, restaurants and entertainment.
"California, no doubt, has some great regional malls," Siegel said. "But our project will be very different. It has to be if we're going to get people to drive past a regional mall and come to us."
While the average shopper at a typical regional mall spends about 50 minutes during a shopping trip, Siegel said that the Mills' average shopper spends 3 1/2 hours on site.
Mills' properties, Siegel said, are designed to lure people in on the promise of upscale merchandise at low prices. But, rather than simply shopping one department store, "consumers find that it's entertaining to shop the entire mall," Siegel said. "There's enough eclectic . . . and different stuff to make it very entertaining."
When City Mills opens in late 1998, it will house 12 anchor stores and about 85 smaller shops.