VOL. 10 | NO. 30 | Saturday, July 22, 2017
Malco Theatres Moves Forward With Adjusted Powerhouse Cinema Plans
By JODY CALLAHAN
Plans for the Malco Powerhouse Cinema have shifted after projected costs for the initial proposal came back too high. Rooftop screens were moved to the ground floor, though a retractable screen will still allow for movies to be shown outside. (Malco)
The Malco Powerhouse Cinema proposed for Downtown’s South Main Historic Arts District is still a go, despite delays that have already pushed it well past its expected opening day.
But the roughly $8 million project is going to look a little different than initially proposed, Malco officials disclosed recently, due to projected costs that came back much too high.
“We developed a whole set of plans that involved a lot of stuff that became unfeasible for us,” Malco executive vice president Jimmy Tashie said. “That became beyond our reach.”
The seven-screen theater at 45 G.E. Patterson Ave. will be part of the $55 million Central Station project, which also includes apartments and the redevelopment of the former train station into a boutique hotel.
Taking its name from the former power plant that served Central Station during its heyday as a train depot, the Powerhouse Cinema will stretch west along Patterson from near the Central Station building to Front Street.
Originally, the project was going to have five screens on the ground floor and two screens on the rooftop. The rooftop would have also had a lounge, restrooms and other amenities, giving the theater a different look than any other such facility in Memphis.
But Malco executives soon realized that the rooftop part of the project was going to be very expensive. Not only would the roof have to be reinforced to accommodate the new structures, but that area would also have had to be handicapped-accessible, including elevators.
“(The cost) got pushed very high. When we put the numbers together for putting this stuff on the roof, auditoriums, restrooms and everything, it made the cost to where it couldn’t be done,” Tashie said. “We had to bring the cost down.”
To do that, officials moved all the screens to the ground floor, eliminating the rooftop plans entirely.
“We thought long and hard about it and we said, ‘In order for this project to work, we still have to have seven screens. But we now have to get ’em downstairs.’ And we figured out a way of doing that,” Tashie said.
The Malco Powerhouse Theater takes its name from the former power plant that served Central Station. (Malco)
As a way of still having an outdoor component, the theater will have a retractable screen that will allow them to show movies outside, Tashie said.
“Instead of the rooftop cinema, we’re going to project out here to an outside screen, to have outside movies for people. The screen will be (retractable). We could say, ‘This Friday we’re going to show “The Wizard of Oz” for the family.’ It just adds another element,” Tashie said. “Since we can’t do this on the roof, we still want to have some sort of outdoor venue.”
Another change that drove up costs was the industry trend toward newer, more comfortable seats. Today, Tashie said, many theaters are moving toward recliners as opposed to a more traditional movie seat. The new theater will have those recliners, which cost around $550 each.
But those recliners take up much more room, decreasing the number of seats each theater can hold. Originally planned to have about 900 seats, the Powerhouse will now have only around 550. That limits the number of potential customers for each showing, which also affects the project’s economics.
“Had we built that, we would’ve found ourselves saying, ‘Uh oh, we missed out.’ Everybody’s talking about recliners,” Tashie said. “So we redesigned the theater. Here’s what happens. Basically it cuts your seats in half. That’s what it does.”
The project is appealing to residents of the area, said Don Williams, president of the board of directors of the South Main Association.
“We think it’s a great addition to the neighborhood. Our neighborhood is about walkability. Any new entertainment thing that our residents can walk to, we think is a good thing,” he said. “We have a movie (theater) in walking distance. We’d have to go to Overton Square (otherwise). That’s not what we want people to do. We want people in our neighborhood to have choices.”
When the project was first announced, some expressed concern as to how it would affect the Memphis Farmer’s Market. The market is held on Saturdays under a covered structure just south of the theater site.
Malco officials, however, said they’ve worked out an agreement with the market that should allow both entities to use the area without any conflict.
“They have agreed to be out of there by 1 or 1:30 on Saturdays. We have a very good relationship with them. We did not want to interfere with them,” Tashie said.
The market will also be able to remain open during construction, Malco vice president David Tashie added.
Allison Cook, the market’s executive director, said they’ve been able to work with Malco on the project.
"They’ve been really open and able to listen to our needs. Really, since the beginning they want to have a successful project of their own but they didn’t want to disrupt us any,” Cook said. "We’ve had a good partnership."
Now that the project’s issues have been worked out and construction is imminent, Jimmy Tashie said, they hope to be a part of the South Main district for decades to come.
“We have always liked South Main. It’s an art district. There have been movies made down there. There are studios down there, artists living down there,” he said. “It’s just always felt right down there for us.”