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Where Viewers Are Stars

Commercial Real Estate

Theaters: ArcLight Hollywood is the latest to bet that pampering guests will lift profit.

March 26, 2002|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You can watch the same movies for almost half the price elsewhere, but the owners of the sleek new ArcLight Hollywood theater are counting on pampering moviegoers to pump up profit.

With last week's opening of the 14-screen cinema, which wraps around the landmark Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard near Vine Street, owner Pacific Theatres Corp. joins a growing list of theater operators exploring ways to win over serious and affluent moviegoers who are willing to pay a premium for plush surroundings and service.

The ArcLight Hollywood features extra-wide seats, high-tech sound systems, full-service cafes and bars. Moviegoers are able to select reserved seats and will be invited to attend special screenings as well as film and speaker series. The regular ticket price: $14.

"People are seeking a safe escape," said Christopher Foreman, chief executive of Pacific Theatres, which also operates the Cinerama Dome. "If you love movies, this is the place for you."

In recent months, a small group of theaters has opened in the Los Angeles area that seeks to offer a more exclusive environment than the typical large and noisy multiplex. In Westchester, the Bridge Cinema de Lux, a joint venture of National Amusements Inc. and CineBridge Ventures, offers leather-upholstered seats in some of its 17 auditoriums as well as a restaurant, bar and live performance venue. In Hollywood, the new Mann theaters in the Hollywood & Highland shopping center include a VIP lounge and seating area where the ticket price, $20, is perhaps one of the highest in the nation.

VIP cinemas are popping up around the country as theater operators recover from a disastrous bout of overbuilding that led to some high-profile bankruptcy filings and the closure of hundreds of movie houses.

In Chicago, for example, one portion of a multiplex is devoted to a 21-and-over bistro, bar and auditorium with rocking seats upholstered in leather.

In Boca Raton, Fla., a $16 ticket at the Premiere Theatres Bistro & Bar gets moviegoers complimentary valet parking, unlimited popcorn, special balcony seating and access to a full-service restaurant and bar.

However, the results of these high-end theaters are mixed as theater owners test the depth of patrons' interest.

Some of the theaters located outside affluent and major urban centers have been closed or converted to traditional formats.

At the ArcLight Hollywood, part of a $100-million retail and entertainment complex, the target customer is not necessarily affluent but one who is regarded as a serious moviegoer, Foreman said. "They love the big blockbuster and the art house film," he said.

The property reflects research showing that although moviegoers enjoyed such new megaplex features as stadium seating, "they didn't like the hassles and impersonal atmosphere," Foreman said.

The $14 ticket price will limit the audience size but is needed in part to offset the higher operating, staff and construction costs, Foreman said.

The ArcLight will not screen commercials, forgoing a significant source of revenue.

The ArcLight Hollywood's cafe, bars and gift shop are designed to capture more of the customer's time and money before and after the show. "We want to enhance and extend the moviegoing experience," Foreman said.

For now, Pacific Theatres plans to open only one other ArcLight theater, in Bellevue, Wash.

The results of the ArcLight Hollywood will tell whether Los Angeles can support more expensive and exclusive theaters.

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