Gaming & Technology

2 companies express interest in building downtown movie complex in Lexington

Krikorian Premiere Theatres has abandoned plans to build a six-screen movie complex at the transit center on Vine Street, shown here, and behind the Kentucky Theatre.
Krikorian Premiere Theatres has abandoned plans to build a six-screen movie complex at the transit center on Vine Street, shown here, and behind the Kentucky Theatre. Herald-Leader

Two companies that specialize in building and operating movie theaters have expressed interest in building a six-screen downtown movie complex.

Metroplex Theatres, doing business as Krikorian Premiere Theatres, in Torrance, Calif., and Look Cinemas in Dallas responded to a request by the city to hear from companies interested in pursuing a downtown theater, entertainment and restaurant project.

Both have experience with theaters in urban settings.

The first step is to "vet the developers themselves," said Jeff Fugate, president of the Downtown Development Authority. "We want to look at their qualifications, their financial wherewithal, their capacity to pull off a project like we have in mind."

Once that process has been completed, the city will ask for specific proposals.

If the city is able to strike a deal with a developer, "It will not be for the typical six-screen theater I went to as a kid," Fugate said. "We want something higher-end and a more event-oriented facility rather than the classic suburban movie theater."

Amenities might include stadium seating, food service for theater patrons combined with a full-service restaurant and other entertainment attractions such as a bowling alley.

Possible locations include two city-owned parcels of property. One location would include the two surface parking lots at 129 and 151 East High Street. The lots are above the 770-space Lexington Transit Center parking garage and bus transfer center, both accessible on Vine Street. The second is the Phoenix Lot, a surface parking lot between Vine and Water streets.

Fugate said he is amenable to talking with private landowners.

East Main Street was once the cultural and theater district of downtown, with multiple theaters. A movie complex would help strengthen the vision of re-creating a new theater district, Fugate said.

"What we wanted to do in the RFQ (request for qualifications) was nod to the fact that with the historic Kentucky and State theaters and Natasha's on the Esplanade, the east end of downtown seemed appropriate for this type of development," he said.

The Kentucky Theatre is a downtown landmark and "extremely important to the city. Any new movie complex must complement the Kentucky. We are very cognizant of that," Fugate said.

Fred Mills, general manager of The Kentucky and the State, said Monday that he gets a lot of exclusive and first-run films. "The type films we show, I don't think a movie complex would have that much effect," he said.

That said, Mills added, "I would rather not have the competition, but we have a pretty loyal following."

One of Look's founders, Tom Stephenson, a noted theater industry veteran, served as president and CEO of the Dallas-based Rave Motion Pictures for the past 10 years.

During a telephone interview Monday, Stephenson said Lexington would be a "terrific market for what we have in mind."

"It has wonderful neighborhoods in proximity to the University of Kentucky and all inside the (New Circle) loop," he said.

His newly formed company is developing an upscale entertainment complex at Preston Creek in Dallas, due to open later this year, with 11 screens, 1,900 stadium-style seats, a Nick & Sam's restaurant, plus three auditoriums were people may watch movies and dine.

Stephenson said his complexes typically have an IMAX theater.

The other company, Krikorian Premiere Theatres, has built more than 20 multi-screen theaters, most in urban settings in California, frequently combining new construction with renovated old buildings. This is not the first time founder George Krikorian has tried to do a project in Lexington.

In 2009, he proposed a $70 million development on Angliana Avenue with a 12-screen movie theater, bowling alley, restaurants, shops and apartments. It received city approval for tax-increment financing. Krikorian said he became acquainted with Lexington after buying a horse farm in Woodford County.

In October, Chris Westover, an attorney for Krikorian, said the project was being scrapped, citing "too many issues related to timing and property owners, including the adjoining railroad."

Westover said she had not spoken directly to Krikorian in recent months, "But it's my understanding he would very much like to do something in Lexington. It's just hard to find the right land in the right circumstances."

The Downtown Development Authority will appoint a committee to interview both companies.

"I'm hopeful we'll know by fall which way we're headed and whether this might be a go," Fugate said.