by Greg Markley
Nobody is calling “Lights, Camera, Action” yet at a 13-screen, state-of-the-art Carmike Cinema near Tiger Town, but popcorn vendors should get ready. After two unsuccessful attempts to secure movie theater companies, Opelika now has a solid plan in place that even Charlie Chaplin and Marcel Marceau might wish to talk about.
On Tuesday, the Opelika Planning Commission sent a positive recommendation to the City Council for a 4.25 acre strip to be annexed into the city. That would place the western extension for the 55,000 square foot theater within Opelika city limits. This Carmike Cinema is on target to open by the summer of 2013, amid a top film-showing season. The City of Opelika is providing incentives of over $1,650,000; the estimated project cost will be nearly $12 million.
“This will be the latest and greatest…..state-of-the-art in every respect… sound, screen size, digital projectors and seating,” said Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller. “I would expect to see first and new releases there. It is an entertainment venue not currently available in Opelika. With 13 screens and more than 2,800 seats this will be an asset to our community and will help create other business opportunities. This will help create additional development on the south side of exit 58 near Tiger Town.”
In August, the OPC granted conditional use approval for a 13-screen theater at Capps Landing. The Capps Landing development south of Tiger Town has seen several offers for a theater, including an earlier one by Carmike Cinemas of Columbus in 2009 and another by Revolution Cinemas of Atlanta the next year. Capps Landing currently has two hotels: Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn & Suites.
Based in Columbus, GA, Carmike Cinemas, Inc. owns or has an interest in 239 theaters with 2,236 screens in 35 states, as of December 2010. The company’s nickname is “America’s Hometown Theatre.” The brand is well-known in Lee County as there is a popular 16-screen Wynnsong Theater in Auburn.
Steve Benson of Opelika Land and Timber, Inc. owns the site and is delighted the theater is edging closer to showtime.
“I developed Capps Landing several years ago and have worked with Carmike for four years to bring it together,” Benson reflected. “With the assistance of Mayor Fuller and Lori Huguley at Economic Development we are close to pulling it all together. It will draw patrons from greater Opelika, Lee County, from areas north to Alex City, Roanoke, east to Valley and down through Smiths Station to Phenix City. It should be a great addition to Opelika and Tiger Town.”
Added Fuller: “ The primary reason a deal couldn’t be made in the past was putting together a bankable deal for this size project…..it is difficult today to raise capital with all the regulations banks are facing and the fact that a theater is a ‘one-use building.’ What could you convert it to if a theater no longer exists? That has been part of the problem with financing.”
In other activity, the Opelika Planning Commission:
– Granted preliminary plat approval concerning two lots behind Greg Jones’ Orchard Avenue property. Jones was an unsuccessful candidate in 2012 for Ward 1 councilman. The OPC action should help Jones come into compliance with city zoning and subdivision regulations.
– Tabled the annexation of five acres of land on Lee Road 989 after a wide-ranging discussion. Traffic “sight distance” concerns joined fears about liability issues in sending the proposal back until the October meeting. The road, when built some 20 years ago, met neither county nor city specifications.
– Granted conditional use approvals for First Presbyterian Church, 900 Second Avenue, new sanctuary; Conner Auto Collision, 3300 Pepperell Parkway, auto repair shop and towing service; and John Marsh, 409 South Tenth Street, outdoor week-end antique market.