The grand opening of AMC Theatres in the location of the previous Century Theaters complex may be the summer blessing downtown Evanston needs, according to the property’s developer.
AMC’s goal, said Mitch Goltz, is to have screens turned on in time for the wave of movies that typically drop from around Memorial Day through the Fourth of July.
“They want to make sure that, when they’re opening for that first customer experience after … two years, that it’s an inviting, safe and fun experience,” said Goltz, co-founder and co-owner of GW Properties, the developer that purchased the property in November.
Goltz told the RoundTable that AMC will remodel the concession stands first and will slowly renovate the 12 auditoriums, formerly operated by Cinemark, over time. AMC’s primary goal is to open as soon as possible, he said, given they can provide the “right experience” to moviegoers. The theater chain has said it will add a MacGuffins bar at what will be called AMC Evanston 12.
Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park, will take over the space formerly occupied by the six auditoriums, once branded CineArts, on the south side of the theater complex.
Goltz remarked that he has experienced more community interest in this project than any other project he has worked on in the 15 years of his company.
“A lot of our projects are very, just, unemotional, you know, vanilla, in and out. But this is something that will truly have a greater impact on the community than what itself is bringing,” he said.
AMC’s in, Cinemark’s out. What happened?
AMC Theatres is the country’s largest movie theater chain, and the developer said AMC is “very excited” to be here. Six to eight theater groups were lined up behind AMC trying to take the space, Goltz said.
Goltz said he wasn’t involved in the previous theaters’ closure but said that when the pandemic started, there was very little clarity or certainty about when things would return to normal for all businesses, and tenants everywhere were “scrambling to get out of obligations.”
“There was a time where many people said, ‘Ugh, people at the movie theater are never going to come back,’ or, you know, restaurants, ‘No one’s ever going back to the restaurant, nobody’s ever gonna go back to the grocery stores or fitness clubs.’”
Goltz said that while tenants, landlords and owners all were trying to cut liabilities, they made big, rash decisions in the process. He said that historically, the Church Street Plaza location has been one of the top movie theaters in Illinois.
“There’s gonna be less theaters out there [in general]. And the ones that are going to thrive are the ones that are in A-plus locations like this, where there’s a million people” in the vicinity to serve as customers, Goltz said.
GW facilitating plaza’s new look
GW is a retail development company that primarily invests in core neighborhoods and markets in the Chicagoland area. The market in Evanston is “probably one of the most mature markets in Chicago,” Goltz said.
The property at the plaza at Maple Avenue and Church Street can accommodate 20 tenants, and Goltz said he has been surprised at the amount of interest from potential tenants.
As previously reported by the RoundTable, GW acquired the building that holds the theater, as well as a few around it last fall. The former Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant at 1714 Maple will become Belong Gaming, an e-gaming studio. Northwestern Medicine, across the street from the theater, will expand, replacing Cyclebar and Furious Spoon.
Cyclebar will move next door to Noodles and Company at 940 Church St.
The building at 950 Church St., which once held American Apparel, will feature Big Wig Taco, a fast-casual taco restaurant that currently has two locations in Chicago. GW has also signed with Semper Med Spa.
Theater’s absence caused shift in downtown business
Not all communities have a movie theater in their backyard, Goltz said, and, before it closed, Century 12 was the lifeblood of the area.
Raechel Robertson is a bartender and manager at Taco Diablo, a bar and restaurant around the corner on Davis Street. She said she noticed a change in business after the movie theater closed in 2020.
Century 12 used to have a bar in the theater, so with it gone, Robertson has noticed an increase in bar customers and she attributes the shift to that. But people aren’t buying food as much as they once did.
“We get less service because people don’t come to eat before they go and see a movie anymore, which is really sad. We used to get a lot of business from that because we’re so close to the movie theater.”
She said she’s excited for the theater to return, adding that she once spent a week at that location watching all the Harry Potter movies.