May 04, 2009

Movies are returning to Main Street

The AMC Mainstreet theater, shedding past roles as the RKO Missouri and Empire Theater, is returning to downtown’s center stage.

Inside a historic shell where vaudeville once reigned, AMC Entertainment has inserted an ultra-modern digital movie complex as part of a $25 million overhaul.

“When you take in every aspect of the theater, it’s one of the most -- if not the most -- state-of-the-art theaters in the country,” said AMC’s Andy Diorio.

What was once a poster child for downtown’s decline -- three trees sprouted from its roof during its 20 years of neglect -- is now the final entertainment anchor in the South Loop, joining the rejuvenated Midland theater and new Sprint Center.

“Yet another addition in the continued revitalization of downtown,” said Jon Stephens, president of the Power & Light District. He called Cordish Co. pleased with the result.

AMC worked with Cordish, the developer of the Kansas City Power & Light District, to remake the old domed pleasure palace into a six-screen complex, along with a restaurant/lounge called the Marquee.

Grand reopening is May 1, but the theater will host the Kansas City FilmFest April 22-26.

The theater at the corner of 14th Street opened in 1921, offering Charlie Chaplin and others on the silent screen for 50 cents and live entertainers, such as George Burns, onstage. The Mainstreet became the RKO Missouri in 1949 and finally the Empire Theater in 1960 until its closing in 1985.

It’s a historic renovation project -- at least to the passer-by. The AMC Mainstreet’s exterior was restored meticulously down to the green terra cotta tiles of its distinctive dome.

But don’t go inside expecting the original baroque interior. The only significant survivors are the restaurant’s terrazzo floor and the grand staircase at the back of the dining area.