Movie theaters in Charlotte are disappearing

Movie theaters in Charlotte are disappearing
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In the last few years, Charlotte has lost the Manor Theater, the Studio Movie Grill in the EpiCentre and the Regal Ballantyne Village. Now, because of new development, the Regal Phillips Place movie theater will eventually close, too.

Driving the news: Developer Lincoln Harris plans to rezone part of the high-end Phillips Place shopping center in SouthPark to make way for a 10-story office tower and parking structure where the Regal currently sits. The Charlotte Ledger first reported news of the rezoning last week.

  • “We have been in communications with Regal Cinemas throughout this process as they still have term left on their lease and we will continue to communicate with them while city planners evaluate our proposed development,” Lincoln Harris spokesperson Ryan Ramey said in a statement.
  • The Phillips Place’s lease runs through 2025, Regal spokesperson Richard Grover tells Axios.

Why it matters: The cinemas that either have closed or are set to close in Charlotte account for 22 screens. The closures mean that Charlotteans are finding entertainment elsewhere, be it at breweries, new retail spots or just on their devices at home.

Zoom out: The movie-theater industry was already under pressure from streaming services like Netflix and HBO. Then, the pandemic last year forced the closure of thousands of theaters nationwide. So instead, studios started releasing films directly to on-demand outlets.

  • Subscriptions soared for streaming services. Newcomers like Disney+, AppleTV and Paramount+ continue to gain momentum, all in an effort to catch up to Netflix’s dominance, Axios’ Sara Fischer writes.

The number of theaters to close permanently following the pandemic is “directly proportional to how long it takes the US to stomp out the virus,” Jeff Bock, a senior analyst at entertainment research firm Exhibitor Relations, told CNN Business last fall.

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“For me, the loss of cinema space is always a problem because where I come from … when there aren’t many screens for mainstream films, there are fewer for indie and international films,” says Jay Morong, program director of the Charlotte Film Society and a film studies professor at UNC Charlotte.

Yes, but: The movie-theater industry has always been pivoting. Critics have worried about the decline of the movie theater industry since back when televisions became mainstream, Morong adds. It’s the “transactional” theaters, the ones that fail to adapt to the times or provide a unique experience, that may suffer, he says.

  • “We subconsciously want to feel like we’re special,” Morong adds. “It’s like a relationship where the other person doesn’t make you feel special … you’re eventually going to say ‘why am I even bothering with this?'”

One example of this innovation: After AMC bought Park Terrace, the company reopened it as a full dinner-and-a-movie experience, I wrote at the time. It boasts a full food menu, cocktail bar and leather reclining chairs.

There are other signs of innovation in Charlotte’s movie industry. Studio Movie Grill opened a new theater with 10 screens, a bar and plush recliners in late 2019 in Prosperity Village. And Morong is part of the group working to open a new three-screen nonprofit arthouse cinema in NoDa.

  • Along with traditional movie concessions (like popcorn from the original Manor popcorn maker, no less), the Independent Picture House will offer beer, wine and Charlotte Film Society Memberships.

The Film Society is in the midst of a fundraising campaign for the theater. The plan is to open sometime this fall.

Rendering of the new art house cinema in NoDa, the Independent Picture House (courtesy of Charlotte Film Society)

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