Remember the Alamo?
You will soon. However, any number of prickly questions remain unanswered regarding the changing of the guard at AMC’s Mainstreet downtown. A switch from hometown exhibitor AMC to Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse.
Chief among the questions: what will become of the Mainstreet’s three large downstairs auditoriums once Alamo unveils its elaborate food and drink menu? A menu that puts AMC’s meager Cinema Suites and Fork & Screen offerings to shame.
With more than a dozen appetizers, more than a half dozen pizzas and a wide array of salads, wraps, burgers, sandwiches and entrees, the $64 million question is, how will Alamo deliver its goods to moviegoers jammed into the larger, downstairs auditoriums with traditional stadium seating?
It’s one thing to pass a hotdog or beer down the aisle at Arrowhead, quite another to try and balance a serving of Spaghetti Squash and Pomodoro Sauce and a pitcher of Skinny Girl Sangria while trying not to step on anybody’s toes.
"AMC serves food upstairs in the Cinema Suites but not downstairs," says KCC movie man Jack Poessiger. "So if they want to serve food downstairs they’ll almost certainly have to remodel the auditoriums."
AMC’s limited-menu food service experiment in its local theaters has largely been a failure.
Moviegoers were originally required to pay a 10 buck a ticket premium that included a food and drink voucher. A policy that was abandoned last year, presumably because the higher prices were hurting ticket sales.
Make no mistake, the odds AMC would suffer the hometown embarrassment of bailing out of its signature $60 million investment with Power & Light developer Cordish were it not a money-loser are likely slim and none.
Not that AMC’s out-of-town, vulture capiltal owners probably care much about what anybody in KC thinks.
As for how well the Mainstreet’s been doing, former Kansas City Star movie critic Robert Butler may have pegged the money question three years ago on the theater’s opening:
"Many are curious about whether the Mainstreet will continue to flourish after the initial excitement wears off."
With a reported outlay of $25 million for the Mainstreet theater alone, a planned staffing of 140 (90 for the restaurant and bar) and only 500 seats to sell, the Mainstreet was a difficult proposition from the get go, some theater insiders said.
Certainly AMC bailing after barely three years of operation hardly signals that the project was a success.
"I can’t imagine that when AMC went into this deal that it didn’t sign up for longer than five years," says one insider. "The other question I have is how much of the $60 million investment in the Mainstreet and the Midland is the city’s share and how much the state’s? And how much of it was TIF and how much Cordish?"
When Butler raved about the Mainstreet’s opening he triumphantly proclaimed it a theater "aimed at movie snobs." However as most in the movie biz know, "snobs" don’t pay the freight. Not when it comes to mainstream movies and $25 million investments.
And leave us not forget that Dallas’ Studio Movie Grill twice failed in its effort to establish a local dine-in movies scene at Zona Rosa up north. SMG had problems booking first run blockbuster movies against AMC’s Barry Woods, but its food service and sightlines were horrible. Even after a complete redesign of the theater.
So let’s review.
AMC founder Stan Durwood is doubtless still ping-ponging about in his grave on the news that AMC’s moneylenders cashed in by selling the company to the censor-happy Chinese. Add to that indignity, Durwood’s dream of successfully relaunching the the Midland and Empire theaters (complete with a Planet Hollywood, remember?) will no longer bear his company’s proud Kansas City name.
And yet another new player will enter the crowded Kansas City movie market, albeit with an ultra hip concept that almost certainly will require millions of dollars more (and the removal of more movie seats) to convert the Mainstreet into an Alamo.
So while Alamo may finally fulfill Butler’s dream of a pleasure palace dedicated exclusively to "movie snobs" – non-snobs may find themselves but a glimpse at their cellphones away from being set out on the curb in mid movie.
"My son has gone to the Alamo theaters in Austin and he’s given them nothing but great reviews," Poessiger says. "It’s just a totally different atmosphere – no talking, no texting, no screwing around. They want to provide the complete movie experience and they enforce it more than any other exhibitor. If they catch you doing any of that they’ll kick you right out, no questions asked. And a lot of people like that."
Film snobs for instance.
Alamo Drafthouse declined to be interviewed for this column.