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Wednesday, March 13,2013

Coming soon to a theater near you

Forget the old AMC; Celebration! Cinema plans to reinvent the defunct Meridan Mall theater as Studio C!

by James Sanford

Thursday, June 7 — In Steve VanWagoner’s eyes, the shuttered AMC Meridian 6 Theatres complex could one day be an upscale cinema, with refreshments whipped up by chefs, plush stadium-style seating and possibly even a liquor license. He envisions an enormous difference between the old AMC, almost apologetically tucked away behind the Meridian Mall, and Celebration! Cinema’s latest venture, Studio C!, which VanWagoner hopes will be open before the end of the year.


“We want it to be different than any other theater in the area,” said VanWagoner, vice president of marketing for the Grand Rapids-based theater chain. He visited the theater Thursday with Jeremy Kress, Celebration! Cinema’s director of marketing and promotions.


“We want a service staff that’s second to none. Hopefully, if you want to, you’ll be able to buy your ticket online and go straight to your seat, if you don’t want to stand in line.”


If you’re in no mood to wait around for popcorn, that won’t be a problem at Studio C!: “We’re thinking about a service that will deliver (snacks) to your seat, if that’s what you want,” VanWagoner said.


The menu is still being put together, but it will definitely offer a few options besides Twizzlers, Gummi Bears and Goobers. “We’re not going to use the word ‘concession,’” VanWagoner said. “We’ll have a full menu, and it will be chef-prepared from our own recipes. You can call it ‘VIP,’ or ‘premium,’ or ‘premiere,’ if you like.”


VanWagoner said Studio C! will be an environment unlike Celebration! Lansing, the 20-screen complex on the south side that boasts the area’s only IMAX screen.


“We could have come in and just created a theater like our others, but that didn’t make sense. We wanted to have a place where we could experiment, a test kitchen. We’re really proud of our other theaters and think they’re state-of-the-art experiences. But we’re going to raise the bar a bit with this, especially in terms of the food we’ll provide.”


One of the very few things Studio C! will have in common with the former AMC property is its size: “It will remain six theaters,” VanWagoner said. “We won’t extend the boundaries of the theater.”


Last summer, while the AMC Meridian was still operating, there were reports that the property would be taken over by American Theatre Corp., which also had plans for a cinema that could serve restaurant-style cuisine and alcohol. The company never moved forward with the project. Around the same time, the Scripps Howard News Service reported that American Theatre Corp. CEO James T. Duffy and his various companies had been sued at least 69 times and racked up $24.6 million in judgments for unpaid rent or broken contracts.


VanWagoner is aware that getting Studio C! in shape in the next six months or so will be a challenge. Although AMC closed the theater last October when its lease ended, it looks like the company gave up on maintaining the facility long before that. The exterior of the building has patches of peeling paint and well-weathered glass; the d'cor inside is pure late-1980s, with shopworn Formica counters, a shabby-looking box office and a half-moon concession stand, its back walls plastered with glossy magenta and cherry-cola-colored tiles. Looking around, you can almost hear Debbie Gibson’s “Electric Youth” or Martika’s “Toy Soldiers” booming out of the lobby sound system.


The outdated design extends into the theaters, “which are now sloped-floor and will be changed to stadium-style seating,” VanWagoner said. The “premium seating” that will be installed will give customers more room to relax; it also means the capacity for each theater will be reduced. “We expect to have less than 1,000 total seats” in Studio C!, Van Wagoner said.


The lineup of films may also be distinctive. “We hope we can bring in some independent movies that will be exclusive to the area,” VanWagoner said. “We’re looking at an environment that caters to more of an adult audience that wants to watch movies.”


The cost of the remodel has yet to be determined; the same is true of the admission prices at Studio C!, although VanWagoner acknowledges the fees “will reflect the service and atmosphere — you will be getting a premium seat in a premium location.”


Celebration! Cinema is asking for local input on the Studio C! project at both its Facebook page and its website.

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