Dallas-based company wants to build IMAX theater near Rupp Arena

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comDecember 8, 2013 

A Dallas company wants to put the first IMAX theater in Lexington on property close to Rupp Arena.

Dallas-based Look Cinemas has an option to buy property at the corner of West High Street and South Broadway with plans of putting in a IMAX theater and multiplex with 10 additional movie screens. The plans, which are still preliminary, also call for an upscale restaurant at that location.

"We think this is going to be tremendous economic benefit to the community and will continue the revitalization to this whole downtown area," Chris Westover, a lawyer who represents Look, told the Herald-Leader.

But the deal includes a lot of moving parts, including relocating an 1808 historic home from West High Street to a property on West Short Street close to Newtown Pike.

Westover said the group needs to get approvals from the Board of Architectural Review to remove the home from West High Street, and move it to West Short Street. It also needs approval for the overall design of the theater. The owner of the property on West Short Street will get the house for free. Moving the historic home is estimated to cost about $370,000.

Look Cinemas will not need to get a zoning change for the property. The group is expected to present initial designs to the Board of Architectural Review at its January meeting, Westover said.

If the Board of Architectural Review green lights the plan to relocate the house and the design for the theater, construction could begin sometime late in 2014, Westover said.

The historic home has received a Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation designation. The trust's board has given the okay to move the home as long as it receives all the approvals it needs from the Board of Architectural Review, said Maureen Peters, vice president of the Bluegrass Trust. The 1808 home is thought to be one of the first two-story brick homes built in Lexington and is referred to as the Lowman house, after its first owner John Lowman. Peters said that Look has also provided Bluegrass Trust with information about financing for the project.

Lee Thomas, president of the Historic South Hill Neighborhood association, said the neighborhood wanted to see more detailed plans before making a decision on whether it would support the concept. Representatives from Look Theaters spoke at a neighborhood association meeting earlier this month.

"I don't see any push back at this point," Thomas said. "It was a very friendly meeting."

Parking is another hurdle Look will have to clear.

Westover said that initial plans involve 100 underground spaces at the theater. The group is also trying to work out agreements with the Lexington Center and Rupp Arena to use parking facilities across the street along Broadway.

Much of the city's multiple-screen movie theaters are on the south side of town, leaving an under-served movie-going population on the north side. There have been efforts for several years to put a multiplex theater in downtown Lexington. But previous attempts stalled because of the scarcity of suitable and available real estate downtown.

Lexington is also one of the few cities of its size without an IMAX, a high resolution film format that is particularly popular with 3D movies. If plans are approved, Look Cinema's IMAX will be the fourth IMAX theater in Kentucky. Two are located in Louisville and a third is in Newport.

Lexington has only one downtown movie house, the Kentucky Theater, a historic theater which has been a mainstay on Main Street since 1922. The building is owned by the city.

Westover said that Look only intends to run new releases and does not want to siphon customers from the historic theater.

"It's not Looks intention or desire to compete with the Kentucky," Westover said.

Fred Mills, manager of the Kentucky, said the theater also runs new releases. Much of its first-run movies are art-house movies. Two of the movies currently showing — Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena — can only be seen at the Kentucky, he said.

Mills said he is more concerned about the location of the theater then the competition. "I think it's not going to be a good location in terms of the traffic and the parking," Mills said.

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall

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