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With the Jan. 5 closure of the Regal College Station, Springfield’s movie theater market has dwindled to three options, leaving the remaining operators looking to pick up customers amid an industry still in coronavirus pandemic recovery mode.
Regal officials announced the closure of the 54,000-square-foot downtown theater at 415 W. Market St. in a New Year’s Eve post on Facebook. No reason was cited, but Cineworld, the U.K. parent company of Regal Cinemas, is going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in the United States.
The fate of the building is unknown, but downtown officials are hopeful another movie theater soon will occupy the space.
Mike Stevens, Moxie Cinema executive director, said Regal’s closure was “a kick in the gut.”
“It kind of reflects where we are in the industry right now,” he said. “We’re going to see fewer screens in America. The phrase that I’ve heard in the industry is we are over-screened. There are too many screens for the demand that we have coming out of the pandemic.”
Stevens and officials at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema say they weren’t surprised to hear about Regal’s decision, noting the U.S. movie industry has struggled since the pandemic arrived in 2020 and streaming films grew in popularity. According to industry trade organization the National Association of Theater Owners, nearly 500 of the country’s 41,000 screens have closed since then.
Stevens said between the Moxie, which also is downtown, and the Regal, moviegoers had an opportunity to see a wide range of movies within a couple of blocks.
“That’s just not going to be the case moving forward,” he said.
Still, Rusty Worley, executive director of the Downtown Springfield Association, said he believes the Regal building can live on as a movie theater. The facility opened in late 2008 as Hollywood Theaters at the College Station retail development, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. Regal purchased Hollywood Theaters in 2013, though branding on the building of the latter company’s name remains.
“There’s still a considerable market in Springfield for movie theaters,” Worley said. “Right now, with the exception of the Moxie, the only movie screens are south of Battlefield [Road], so that leaves center city and north Springfield underserved. We have a lot of amenities here. The facility itself is still very strong and viable. With some upgrades that could be done relatively quickly, it can be a very competitive theater site once again.”
Scott Tillman, manager with Tillman Redevelopment LLC, which owns the building and other property across the street in the downtown development via College Station LLC, said the movie theater structure has generated “a lot of interest.” He declined to disclose names of businesses his company is speaking with or potential plans for the building.
“Other than closing and moving out, they haven’t terminated their lease,” Tillman said of Regal, adding he expects that decision will come soon. “We’re making plans but can’t legally negotiate anything with any company.”
South of downtown, Alamo Drafthouse hopes to grab more of the movie market, said General Manager Cameron Steele. The Springfield theater of the Austin, Texas-based movie chain, which debuted in the Queen City in 2017, sold roughly 500,000 tickets its first year of operation, according to past reporting.
Declining to disclose annual revenue or ticket sales over the past couple of years, Steele said a year-over-year comparison is difficult due to the reduced film release schedule from Hollywood studios since the pandemic.
“We are trending in the right direction and really returning to those pre-COVID numbers we’re hoping to see. We’re really using 2019 as our barometer and we are definitely getting closer to 100% of what sales looked like in 2019,” he said, noting ticket sales in 2022 were around 70%-75% of 2019’s pace.
Box-office revenue in North America last year was $7.3 billion, up over 64% from 2021’s total of nearly $4.5 billion, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. It’s still down from pre-pandemic levels, in which 2019’s total was $11.3 billion. In that year, 910 movies were released to theaters, nearly twice as many as the 492 that hit screens in 2022.
Stevens said he found 2022 tougher than any year to date for the Moxie, where he’s worked since 2010. Halfway through the year, the independent movie theater held a fundraiser to cover a $30,000 shortfall in year-to-date revenue. It raised $40,000.
“We asked our donor base, and they came through like gangbusters, so that was heartening,” he said, declining to disclose last year’s revenue. “Springfield has been amazing as far as their support for what we’re doing. That’s been a silver lining.”
Annual ticket sales range 19,000-35,000 – a total he said is largely influenced by titles the theater gets during the year. The films typically skew to an arthouse crowd, such as “The Banshees of Inisherin” and “Moonage Daydream,” which both were among last year’s releases. However, he said the Moxie also occasionally screens larger films such as “The Fabelmans,” the newest release from director Steven Spielberg.
“We’re trying to figure how to remain true to our mission and also stay afloat,” he said.
Annual memberships to the Moxie, which range $50 for a student rate to $1,000 for the director level, are selling well, he said. It had 508 members at the end of 2022, a 24% year-over-year increase.
“Our membership program is really what keeps us going,” he said.
Aside from Alamo Drafthouse and the Moxie, AMC Springfield 11 is the only other movie theater open in the city. AMC Theaters spokesperson Ryan Noonan said the company doesn’t comment on the performance of individual theaters or markets. He didn’t return follow-up messages seeking comment for this story.
Both Stevens and Steele point to streaming services as a major competitor that has cut into the number of films released annually, as studios sought alternative methods to get their products to consumers.
“The impact of streaming services can’t be understated,” Steele said. “We’ve definitely seen that with different titles, whether it’s from Disney, Warner Bros., which have both utilized their own streaming services to be able to release directly to them. The number of films that we’ve opened, we’ve definitely seen a decline as we’ve seen more streaming options.”
While Stevens said he sees 2023 prospects for the Moxie remaining lean, Steele is bolstered by the movie release schedule on tap for the year that he expects will draw big crowds to the Alamo Drafthouse.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” and “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” all have been announced by studios to hit theaters in the coming months.
“We are hoping to reach that full 100% of 2019 and then some,” Steele said. “This is the first year we’ve thought realistically we can touch all of the numbers that we saw at that time.”
In an effort to provide flexibility to their workers, some area businesses are beginning to offer four-day workweeks.
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