Pioneer Place II anchor is key to a retail and entertainment strategy
Pioneer Place II gets a long-awaited anchor this week as Regal Entertainment Group opens its six-screen theater on the fourth floor of the Rotunda building.
'We're getting ready for a real pretty theater,' said Russ Nunley, marketing director of Regal, which is based in Knoxville, Tenn.
Officially called Regal Pioneer Place Stadium 6, the new complex brings the total number of Regal cinemas in the Portland metro area to 29.
Regal is the biggest presence in Portland's movie theater market and also the 'largest movie exhibitor in the world,' according to Nunley. It has 624 movie houses across the United States.
The original plan for Pioneer Place II called for Robert Redford's Sundance Cinema to occupy the top floor of the Rotunda with what was described as a 'revolutionary' multiscreen complex.
But Sundance, which announced its Portland plans in 1998, pulled out in 2000 after partner General Cinemas Group declared bankruptcy and Redford's group couldn't get other financing.
Work on the project was halted, leaving a boarded-up space clogged with scaffolding. Sundance's abandonment of Pioneer Place II also left a gleaming new shopping precinct without an anchor, and without the crowds of shoppers who would have been attracted by the theater.
The new theater, accented by purple-blue neon and iridescent tiles, occupies 32,000 square feet and will seat about 1,100 people. Besides showing the usual movie fare, it will screen critically acclaimed mainstream releases as well as art films, Nunley said.
It also will serve espresso, muffins, Italian sodas and gourmet pretzels.
The titles on the marquee for the theater's official opening on Friday illustrate the range: They include 'Whale Rider,' a New Zealand film that won a people's choice award at the Toronto Film Festival; 'Owning Mahowny,' set in Las Vegas and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Minnie Driver; 'City of Ghosts,' written and directed by Matt Dillon, who also plays the lead; 'Together,' a film by Chinese director Chen Kaige, whose credits include 'Farewell My Concubine'; and 'Sweet Sixteen,' which was filmed in Scotland and won the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Rouse Co., which owns and manages the Pioneer Place shopping center, was delighted to add Regal Cinemas, said Allyson Reed, the shopping center's general manager. A theater complex 'was part of the strategy for a mix of retail and entertainment' at Pioneer Place II, she said.
When Rouse sought a replacement for Sundance Cinema, she said, 'the discussion was really about selecting the right partner who would be successful in this location. One of the assets of working with Regal Cinemas was their strength in the Portland market already.'
Local cinephiles support art films
The success of the Regal Cinema at Fox Tower 'really underscored who the downtown moviegoers are,' Reed said. 'They knew their market of filmgoers very well.'
Regal has been in the Portland market since 1998, when it took over the Act III chain. It tried out the city's appetite for art films when it opened the theater in the Fox Tower almost three years ago.
'It was the first new all-stadium seating, all-art house in the nation,' Nunley said. 'That was a way of showing that we believe there's a strong art audience in Portland that would support these films Ñ and with Fox Tower, our bet paid off.
'Moviegoing in Portland is great; people come out just in droves to see films and support a lot of art titles,' Nunley said. 'You get a wide variety of different films that, truthfully, some cities of your size might not see.'
Gwen Watts, the new theater's general manager, called the facility's design 'very unique' as she led a tour of the cinema-in-the-round, whose six theaters are connected by a circular walkway.
Watts, who previously managed the Fox Tower complex, gestured upward to the glass-domed roof of the Rotunda. 'It's beautiful because the atrium is open,' she said.
The auditoriums, which seat from 123 to 234 people, have tiered, stadium-style seating and ample room for wheelchairs. The new theater will employ about 50 people.
Fox Tower will continue to show art films, although the fare there will not duplicate the movies showing at Pioneer Place II.
Watts said the Pioneer Place II theater will open at 11 a.m. daily, with the last showtime at about 10:30 p.m.
Regal Entertainment Group, which is publicly traded, was founded in 1999 by Colorado investor Philip Anschutz from three bankrupt theater chains: Regal Cinemas, United Artists and Edwards Theatres.
Regal is marking its grand opening at Pioneer Place with reduced prices for popcorn and fountain drinks, coupling the offer with a benefit for the Sunshine Division of the Portland Police Bureau.
Two more benefits, both open to the public, will give a sneak preview before the Friday grand opening. On Wednesday and Thursday, the feature films will be Oscar winners and Hollywood blockbusters from the past. Admission will be $1, and medium-size popcorn and fountain drinks will cost 50 cents.
Wednesday's proceeds go to the United Way of Oregon, Thursday's to the Sunshine Division.