Duluth Omnimax being converted to UltraScreen theaterAt 65 feet wide, it will be two to three times wider than a typical theater screen.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
The Duluth Omnimax Theater is getting a blockbuster of a makeover.
In the next few months, the Omnimax, which closed nearly a year ago, will be converted into a plush, state-of-the-art UltraScreen movie theater that should open in time for the summer movie season. At 65 feet wide, it will be two to three times wider than a typical theater screen.
Marcus Theatres, which operates the Duluth 10 cineplex next to it at the DECC, is not only taking over the Omnimax space but will turn it into its centerpiece screen there.
“It will be as high end of a movie experience as any in the country,” said Dan Russell, executive director of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, which owns the theater space.
With a targeted spring opening, it will be Marcus’ first UltraScreen theater in the Northland and will be among 15 in the Midwest.
“Not only will Duluth area patrons be able to see the latest films in sharp, crisp detail, they will be able to hear movies as they have never heard them before,” Marcus president Bruce J. Olson said in a statement.
Look for blockbuster movies on par with “Batman,” “Mission Impossible,” “Twilight” and the “Harry Potter” series to play there.
“Films best suited for the heightened movie experience are those with visual and audio impact, rather than more intimate dramas and romantic comedies,” said Carlo Petrick, a Marcus spokesman.
The DECC board of directors approved the terms of the 20-year lease in December, but didn’t go public with the news until Wednesday, after Marcus’ investment committee approved it.
That decision came after much research and market analysis, Petrick said.
“People really enjoy the UltraScreen experience,” he said. “It provides another reason why people would come to a Marcus theater.”
New screen, new seats
The Omnimax theater will be gutted and redone, which will be more difficult for Marcus than building from scratch.
“Retrofitting is more complicated,” Petrick said. “This location provided some very unique challenges. Since it was a domed theater and UltraScreen is (relatively) flat, we had to do a lot of engineering to fit that screen into the existing space. It will require a lot of changes in how the screen is set and held in place.”
In place of the Omnimax’s dome-style screen, it will have a wall-to-wall, slightly curved 65-foot screen that will be 3½ stories tall. The theater will have the latest technology for a high resolution image, striking camera shots and digital projection speeds for more dramatic special effects. The Omnimax’s steep stadium seating will be removed, and replaced with deluxe seating with high, reclining backs and memory-foam seats for comfort. When complete, it will seat 250 to 300 people.
A new box office will be created in the current Omnimax lobby while the existing Duluth 10 lobby will be re-carpeted and self-service soda stations added.
A dramatic change will be the addition of the Take Five Lounge, serving mixed drinks and imported beers as well as appetizers, pizza and finger foods. The lounge, which will seat up to 60 people, also will be open to non-movie-goers.
Marcus will spend more than $1 million on the renovations, Russell said.
That’s in addition to the rent. The 20-year lease with two five-year options calls for Marcus to pay a base rent of $41,000 per year. But when 10 percent of ticket revenues and 5 percent of food and beverage revenues surpass $41,000, then that amount is paid, according to Russell.
The Omnimax had been losing money for some time when it closed in early March after the DECC chose not to renew its lease for the IMAX projection equipment. By then, DECC officials were already looking for a replacement use for the space. With Marcus Theatres the logical choice, they first approached the Milwaukee-based theater chain two years ago. Besides Duluth 10, Marcus owns and operates the Lakes 10 and Superior 7 movie theaters in the Twin Ports.
Although DECC officials were approached by people with high tech ideas for the space, some didn’t have the finances, and some ideas didn’t involve the public use that the DECC sought.
“The board said it has to have a higher purpose,” Russell said. “We need something that draws people to Duluth.”
All along, Russell believed Marcus was the best fit.
With a deal reached, Russsell said, the board is thrilled for several reasons.
It fills an empty space. It creates long-term revenue for the DECC. The tenant will pay taxes. And it will be an added attraction for Duluth.
“We will end up with tens of thousands of new movie-goers to downtown Duluth,” Russell said. “And a high percentage of those who go to the movies also get something to eat and spend money elsewhere.”