United Commercial Realty
Theater chain plans to add screens in San Antonio10.16.2009- W. Scott Bailey and Tricia Lynn Siliva - San Antonio Business Journal
Movie theater box office sales are up this year over last, despite harsh economic conditions.
That fact has not been lost on Reel Dinner Partners LLC, which is set to open a second San Antonio Alamo Drafthouse Cinema next month and is in negotiations with developers now for a third multi-screen dine-in theater and pub project — this one slated for the popular Stone Oak area.
Brandon Arceneaux is a partner in Reel Dinner. The franchisee operates a nine-screen Alamo Drafthouse at 1255 S.W. Loop 410. And next month, it will open a six-screen Alamo Drafthouse at Park North, in a multi-venue development at Loop 410 near San Pedro Avenue.
But as Reel Dinner has worked to get that project open, it also has been negotiating with a developer for a site north of Loop 1604 near U.S. Highway 281.
Arceneaux won’t reveal a specific development or developer. But he does confirm that the site is located in the Stone Oak area. He says the project will have a similar number of screens as the North Park Alamo Drafthouse, which cost north of $4 million to develop.
Arceneaux says a deal could be finalized before the end of this month for that Stone Oak project.
“It won’t be long,” he explains. “We are in the final stages.”
In fact, Arceneaux says work could begin on that third Alamo Drafthouse project as soon as January. “The population density is there. It’s a great market,” says Arceneaux about the Stone Oak area.
“Park North and Stone Oak, those areas are no-brainers for us,” says Reel Dinner partner Chris Hoegemeyer.
One might expect that the worst time for an entertainment company to expand would be during a national recession. But Arceneaux and Hoegemeyer are buoyed by box office data that suggests that Americans are still spending money at movie theaters.
According to data provided by Hollywood.com, national year-to-date gross box office revenues through Oct. 11, 2009 were just under $8.1 billion. Theater attendance was approaching 1.1 billion.
So far this year, the gross revenue and attendance totals are up more than 7.4 percent and nearly 4 percent, respectively, compared to the same period in 2008.
The increases come despite the fact that the average cost of a ticket is up from $7.18 in 2008 to $7.45 in 2009, according to Hollywood.com.
“We’ve been fortunate to be up even higher than what the national average is,” says Hoegemeyer about Reel Dinner’s percentage growth in 2009 gross revenues.
“The movie industry is in a good place right now,” Hoegemeyer adds. “We are very optimistic that the positive trends will continue.”
Hoegemeyer says Reel Dinner’s Alamo Drafthouse gross revenues are up nearly 21 percent year to date in 2009 compared with the same period in 2008.
Arceneaux says he expects that the company’s revenues will be up at least 10 percent in 2010 versus 2009.
Center of attention
Reel Dinner’s immediate focus is on Park North, a development that will include a new Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club operated by Bruce and Colleen Barshop, who also own the Rivercenter Comedy Club in downtown San Antonio.
Like Alamo Drafthouse, the new comedy club will open in the last week of November. Its first headline act will be TV and film actor and comedian Richard Lewis.
Bruce Barshop won’t say how much it cost to develop the new comedy club. But he does explain the driving force behind the new venture.
“As there has become more to do on the North Side, it has become more difficult to get people to come downtown,” he says. “We think there is a great market out (north) for what we are doing.”
Meanwhile, Barshop says there have been some conversations with his Rivercenter Mall landlord about the future of the downtown comedy club.
“We have had some very preliminary discussions with them about some things that we can do with the club to update it and make it an exciting venue more focused on the tourist trade,” he says.
Among the possibilities, says Barshop: A new or remodeled Rivercenter Comedy Club.
Just as the movie theater industry is pulling in patrons in a tough economy, so are comedy clubs.
“When we opened (Rivercenter Comedy Club) in 1993, everyone said we were crazy, that the comedy clubs were dying,” says Colleen Barshop. “We are still here.”
The Alamo Drafthouse and Laugh Out Loud projects are key components in a Park North project that many hope will transform an aging inner-city corridor into a revitalized center of attention.
Mark Granados is the managing partner of HPI Retail Properties LP and the developer behind Park North. He envisioned years ago the transformation of a time-worn Central Park Mall site into a hub of retail, restaurant and entertainment venues. Now, Granados is convinced that Park North will bring people back inside Loop 410.
“We’re going to get them there and keep them there,” says Granados about Park North.
Others see the potential.
Michael N. Jersin is president, chief operating officer and principal of United Commercial Realty (UCR) San Antonio. Jersin and fellow UCR brokers Craig Garansuay and Guyla Sineni are overseeing the leasing of Park North.
“What a great start for the project as far as the entertainment (component) is concerned,” says Jersin about the Alamo Drafthouse and the Laugh Out Loud anchors.
As for Reel Dinner Partners, their expansion strategy may not yet be complete. “We have our hands full right now,” Arceneaux says. “But we do have plans and desires to open more (Alamo Drafthouse venues) in San Antonio or in other markets.”