May 03, 2009

New AMC Mainstreet Theater will revolutionize movie-going downtown

The original floors. Brick walls. Vintage handrails. And a reclining seat with a button on the side that summons a waitress so you can order a glass of wine or beer.

The new AMC Mainstreet Theater in the Kansas City Power & Light District blends amenities found at the former Empire Theater with state-of-the-art technology.

Last week, I toured the new $30 million project, which is expected to open the beginning of May. I came away convinced that the venue at 14th and Main streets will forever change the movie-going experience in downtown Kansas City.

The exterior of the old Empire Theater, which opened in 1921, has been completely restored. Inside, the rotunda, the main entryway into the facility, also has been restored. An overhead lighting fixture resembles a gigantic kernel of popcorn.

The lobby floor is sure to become a conversation piece. It features memorable movie quotes such as, “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?” and “Make my day.”

The concession area will be a grab-and-go, help-yourself kind of format.

Greg Scovitch, project manager for the Cordish Co., said the venue required a delicate balance between the old and new.

“So everywhere you look, you’ll see a nice modern finish,” Scovitch said. “But at the same time, you’ll see hints and glimpses of the original structure.”

The former lobby of the Empire Theater is now the Marquee Restaurant, a venue that features everything from shrimp to martinis.

“After you come to the building, we want you to stick around, whether for dinner or a movie and a dinner,” Scovitch said. “The idea is, you grab something from our kitchen and you talk about what you just saw.”

The largest of the three screens on the first floor will seat 283. Two smaller screens on the first level will seat 76. Each theater features digital projection and sound. Three more are on an upper level.

“We’ve essentially shoehorned six movie houses into what was a 2,400-seat vaudeville-style theater,” Scovitch said.

The doors on the women’s and men’s restrooms feature the names of male and female actresses who have won Oscars. The three screens on the upper level are known as cinema-suites and offer an upscale movie-viewing experience. The seats come equipped with a tray and buttons that allow you to contact the wait staff. Many of the seats have a low-frequency speaker underneath them.

“If there’s an explosion, your seat will actually vibrate,” Scovitch said.

With a restaurant and service at your seat, AMC and Cordish, the developers, are banking that people who come will take in more than just a movie.