AMC Theatres has signed a lease to reopen the Century movie theater in Church Street plaza, it developer says. (RoundTable file photo)

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AMC Theatres, the country’s largest movie theater chain, has signed a long-term lease to return moviegoing to downtown Evanston, the developer of the property said Feb. 10.

Mitch Goltz, co-owner of GW Properties, the developer, said AMC indicated it will reopen the 12 screens formerly operated by Cinemark as Century Theatre as early as this spring. The theaters have been closed for nearly two years.

He called AMC’s signing “an important step” forward in efforts to reactivate the 200,000-square-foot Church Street Plaza, which GW bought last November.

“AMC is the biggest name in the business and offers the most amenities,” he said.

Trampoline park, gaming arena and more

Goltz said his firm has also reached agreement with another company, Sky Zone, to operate one of its flagship trampoline and active entertainment parks in what used to be the south side of the theater, where Century had another six screens for showing independent or art-themed movies.

That portion of the theater space will be combined with the second floor of the former Urban Outfitters space.

Sky Zone, whose closest center is in Vernon Hills in another GW Properties development, is a “best-in-its-class operator, who will bring a whole new type of recreation and entertainment to a younger demographic in Evanston,” Goltz said.

Also with younger users in mind, GW Properties has signed a deal with Belong Gaming, a company based in London that operates e-gaming arenas, Goltz said. “That [e-gaming] is one of the strongest clubs at Northwestern,” he said. Belong Gaming would occupy the former Buffalo Wild Wings site at 1714 Maple Ave.

Goltz said the popularity of online video games among Northwestern University students was one of the factors in pursuing the business. Belong Gaming “should be a great draw for people that will come to the site that otherwise may not,” he said.

Other moves in the works, Goltz said, include relocating CycleBar into space across Church Street next to Noodles & Company at 940 Church St., and bringing Big Wig Tacos, a fast-casual taco concept, to take part of the former American Apparel space at 950 Church St.

Resilience and great real estate

Altogether, on the development, Goltz said, “We’ve been very encouraged to date, and, while we’re not surprised, we are very happy with the amount of activity we’ve had here.

GW Properties purchased Church Street Plaza in November and is working to sign new tenants and revive the complex. (Photo by Bob Seidenberg)

“The site had kind of fallen into somewhat of a bad state of occupancy, and it was partially due to COVID, partially due to tenants’ needs changing in the market,” he said.

“But you know, if there’s something that this project can show, it is resilience; and great real estate will continue to bring great tenants and opportunities. We’re looking to be the steward of just really making the most of this project and making it something that Evanston and its constituents can be proud of for many, many years to come.”

Quite a turnaround

Some had counted out the movies returning after Century 12/Cinemark closed shortly after the start of the pandemic in 2020, ending a more than 20-year run at the site.

Paul Zalmezak, the city’s Economic Development manager, was among those predicting the city would land another operator for the space.

Goltz struck a confident tone last fall, announcing his firm’s plans for Church Street Plaza, including reviving the theater.

“Obviously, COVID took its toll on everybody, every market, but before COVID, this was one of the top theaters in the entire state of Illinois,” he said Feb. 10.

“People want to get back to the theater – people have already come back to the theaters,” he said, reiterating that AMC “is the biggest name in the business and offers the most amenities and offerings.

“So they saw this as a great opportunity to pick up some market share in what was a great, great site and a very dynamic market in Chicago.”

More coverage of downtown Evanston:

Will movie theater’s reopening revive downtown Evanston?

Seeing both challenges and opportunities, downtown Evanston leaders seek a ‘reboot’

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. Great news! Like the others, I hope independent art films will be included…Agree too, that the street scape is too hard.. a tree border would be terrific, and the entrance to the parking garage is extremely unwelcoming, that should be improved. We are big theater goers and this news is SO welcome! Totally not into gaming or wall climbing, but if it’s what the community wants, then all good. BTW: the Taco Bar sounds like a wonderful addition!

  2. This is all great news! Congratulations to all who helped make it happen. My additional wish would be an improved streetscape for that block. Maybe the new tenants could contribute. It’s cold and barren. Perhaps a median with trees? I never feel happy to be on that block. To me, the worst part is the unfriendly pedestrian entrance and crossing to the parking garage. It seems like the developers didn’t consider pedestrian comfort in their design. The new and old exciting businesses along that block deserve (and should help fund) a vibrant streetscape to match.

    Just saw Pam and Kurt’s posts. We are in agreement. The parking garage entrance could be from the north or east.

  3. I’m very glad the movie theaters are coming back, but not so happy if they don’t set aside some of the screens for independent and foreign films! Please consider Northwestern U. as a place for discerning moviegoers as well as e-gamers!

  4. I agree with Eva that a climbing gym would be ideal for part of the space. It would be a great venue for all ages, as an alternative to the skate park for kids. I’ve been climbing at Brooklyn Boulders in the West loop for many years and it brings a very inclusive and friendly community. It would be a terrific draw and asset for the Northwestern students as well.

  5. I wish developers would consider adding more active options for young adults instead of gaming. I would love to see a rock climbing gym, zip lines or other forms of climbing and scaling structures to encourage active play. A trampoline park and climbing walls would be a great combination. Climbing is especially friendly for college students who can provide a consistent revenue stream. Also viable during social-distancing periods. We should invest more in the physical health of our young Evanstonians.

  6. I live very close by. I’m a huge in theatre only patron. Most of my viewing was at Cinemark. In a “normal” year, around 85 movies. The added benefits included great films(art and independent), very reasonable matinee pricing, and 4! sizes of popcorn, and a bar! I go where the good films are. Evanston, Wilmette, Music Box, Century, Renaissance, occasionally Facets. I’ve been going to AMC in Skokie to get my fix. Very oddly, you can only use cash if you have the exact amount. That’s the only theatre that does that. It will be great for the overall community to have the theatre back. People would regularly come from Chicago to enjoy Evanston and spend money! Will miss the extra 6 screens.

  7. I hope Gary jacobson’s comments are on target. It’s my recollection that some years ago the Old Orchard Theatre were run by AMC (correct?) and they basically showed middle of the road blockbusters with perhaps of touch of mainstream “Hollywood art.” Independent and foreign films weren’t in the repertoire.

  8. It isn’t completely clear, but it sounds as though they are getting rid of six screens at the south end that had been for independent and art films, to instead house a trampoline and e-gaming. A very bad idea!

    1. Losing the “6 Side” will not affect art films. As the GM l decided which movies went where. My decision was based solely on the number of seats with regard to attendance projections. I remember playing many popular art films on 12 Side.

  9. The City should think about closing that block off to traffic. Create a pedestrian-only entertainment block.

  10. Great news – but where is the Northlight going in? I thought it was in the south end of the old theater where they’re now going to put the gaming.

    1. Northlight’s Theater will be west of the tracks at Church and Oak, not part of this complex. Bourbon ‘N Brass and Thai Sookdee were former occupants of the site. Although they say they need Evanston City Officials to approve the ARPA funds as it’s not a done deal given their need to raise a lot for construction, but they have already purchased the site.

  11. Best news in a long time! I hope the programmer will include a mix of independent and art films. A movie theater returning to downtown and the not-too-distant arival of Northlight Theater will energize Evanston to the benefit of all. Tha arts are critical to a healthy city and society.