Petaluma cinema owner looking to upgrade
Not feeling popcorn? Try the pilsner.
A Petaluma-based movie theater company with locations across California and Idaho is planning to revamp its downtown cinema as a model for modern moviegoing, adding plush seats, restaurant-quality food, upgraded sound, beefed-up screens and beer and wine.
The plans for Cinema West’s Boulevard 14 Cinemas would be a wholesale transformation for the 11-year-old venue, reflecting a format that is giving theaters new punch in an increasingly competitive industry, said company owner Dave Corkill.
While it wouldn’t be the first of Cinema West’s 10 theaters to adopt the approach, Petaluma’s home-town venue would become the company’s flagship, he said.
“When people want to see what we can do in their community, we want to bring them here to Petaluma to show them what we can do,” he said.
The city of Petaluma is currently reviewing the project, which will also require a public hearing due to plans to sell alcohol at the location. Yet Corkill described the plan as broader than beverages alone, involving upgrades that will increase screen size, enhance sound quality and improve comfort.
Each of the theater’s 14 auditoriums would get the facelift, which includes electric, reclining seats with built-in tables for food and drinks, he said. Patrons will also be able to reserve their seat at the time of ticket purchase.
On the food and beverage side of things, Corkill said the theater will get an on-site commercial kitchen capable of cranking out a diverse menu. The service side is not yet set in stone, however, and could range from wait staff taking orders to purchases at the concession counter.
At a time when home streaming services and large-format televisions have put theater-like experiences into many living rooms, Corkill described the Petaluma project as a necessity. He declined to share the cost of the remodel, but said it was “substantial.”
“It’s our job to do it better. If we don’t do it better, we’re going to be like a dinosaur,” he said. “If we don’t improve what we have, Petaluma will be like it used to be, and not have a movie theater. It’s not an ‘if’ – it must happen.”
The Boulevard 14 wouldn’t be the first theater in the county to start serving alcohol to its customers — Healdsburg’s Raven Film Center started serving wine and beer in 2008, and several others have since hopped on board. Cinema West itself already has such service at theaters in Tiburon, Livermore and Meridian, Idaho, with projects underway in Fairfax and Martinez.
Corkill described the Petaluma project as a combination of successful models, and pointed to the company’s recently completed revamp of the Livermore 13 Cinemas as a similar effort. Cinema West ultimately plans similar conversions at each of its locations, he said.
“The national trend right now is to improve food and beverage in movie theaters, and the seat the customer sits in, and the viewing experience,” he said.
The trend is pronounced enough to inspire a set of guidelines for theaters from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, setting standards for lighting, in-auditorium supervision and the number of drinks allowed for purchase, Corkill noted.
“There are a careful set of rules that the ABC has adopted,” he said.
As the anchor of a large mixed-use development in downtown Petaluma known as the Theatre District, the Boulevard 14 opened at a time when the city had no movie theater at all, noted Onita Pellegrini, executive director of the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce. The area has since grown to include a range of restaurants and other businesses.
“I think it would fit very well,” she said of the project. “It’s a theater ‘district,’ which is more than a movie theater. It’s a whole atmosphere of arts and entertainment.”
She said Petaluma’s downtown is on the rise as a culinary destination, and that enough of an appetite existed to accommodate another player.
“This will add to that whole area,” she said.
If the project sails through its needed approvals, auditorium-by-auditorium construction could kick off as soon as this fall, Corkill said.
(Contact Eric Gneckow at email@example.com. On Twitter @Eric_Reports.)