Local Theaters Energized by Residents and Restaurants
Just as the urban planning of shopping malls and housing developments have changed over the years, so has the location of modern movie theaters. When going to any successful movie theater in the post-Covid moviegoing age, the theater is far from the only thing to do in the area. Usually theaters are surrounded by restaurants, arcades, outdoor activities for kids, and other things that families can do if they desire a night out on the town. If a theater is surrounded by none of these things, then chances are it either has some type of novelty within itself that sets itself apart from an average cinema or it closed permanently during the pandemic.
The Regal Manassas theater in Northern Virginia has fallen into this trend as a failing stand-alone theater. Set away from any residences and apart from nearby retail, the theater’s parking lot remains empty on most days. According to the INOVA article “Parkridge Center in Manassas may be redeveloped,” a new development company is looking to redesign the theater and shopping area. The already struggling shopping center was devastated by the pandemic with the theater suffering the most.
Buchanan Partners, headed by Russ Gestl, hopes a new design that includes residential buildings will bring some energy and profit back to the area: “Retail shopping centers and malls that have managed to remain viable in the new economy are those that have positioned themselves as projects with a residential component,” the application states.
The IMAX theater, positioned directly off of Interstate 66, will be torn down if this new mixed use development is approved. “Although it has good visibility, it doesn’t have any of the other metrics that today’s retailers really like,” Gestl said.
Manassas theater-goers will be forced to make the drive to the town of Gainesville, Virginia to see the latest releases. Gainesville’s Regal Virginia Gateway theater displays all the ingredients needed to attract audiences as it anchors a plaza filled with restaurants and shopping and sits in the middle of a large residential community. Families bring children to play in the fountain during the summer and the central plaza provides a backdrop for holiday concerts.
Moviegoers can also drive down Interstate 66 to the east and find another mixed use area anchored by a movie theater at Fairfax Corner. The Cinemark Fairfax Corner and XD theater overlooks a central green space that is surrounded by restaurants and steps away from townhouse complexes. This mega block is always vibrant with activity, from people grabbing ice cream to people exercising on the green or enjoying a night out to eat and watch a movie.
Mixed-use development creates walkable areas and a sense of community that some cities are willing to subsidize with their own tax dollars. According to a Washington Post article, the city of Falls Church is currently negotiating with a developer to build a movie theater in the heart of their retail and residential area.
“Being able to walk to a movie theater is something that people in our community have asked for,” Falls Church Mayor David Tarter said in the October 2022 article. With residents being able to stay close to home along with visitors attracted to shop, eat and enjoy a film, Falls Church would increase revenue for the city.
A sense of community, increased revenue, entertainment choices are all driving a resurgence in theaters that are strategically placed within mixed-use development. Northern Virginia is exploring the best way to bring people to the movies.
“We’re trying to create a balanced community that has [the] sort of things that people want, and entertainment is something that’s important,” Falls Church Mayor David Tarter said.