Miami’s bustling moviegoing scene might be getting even busier.
The Shops at Merrick Park wants to add a movie theater to its roster of high-end shops and restaurants.
General Growth Properties, which operates the popular open-air mall, has partnered with the national chain Landmark Theatres to turn 25,000 square feet of vacant retail space into a boutique seven-screen multiplex. The theaters, adjacent to Neiman Marcus on the third floor, would feature a lounge/bar/patio area that will serve food and alcohol. The auditoriums would be small – capacity would range from 47 to 100 seats – but luxuriously appointed, with large reclining chairs and stadium seating.
But there’s a catch: The managers of the non-profit Coral Gables Art Cinema, located a mile and a half away from the mall, are worried that film distributors will snub them in favor of Landmark with their new releases.
Merrick Park and the Art Cinema are both located on city-owned land. In order for the mall to proceed with the multiplex, it must secure consent from the Coral Gables City Commission.
In a meeting Tuesday, the commission voted unanimously 5-0 to delay granting consent for the new theater until June so that the two entities can work out a deal that would give them equal access to the latest films.
Steven Krams, the executive director of the Gables Art Cinema, argued that the 141-seat venue “has become a cultural center that supports the arts” and has generated $15 million in revenue to the Gables downtown district since opening its doors in 2010.
Although many of Landmark’s 250+ screens around the U.S. focus on first-run Hollywood movies, others specialize in the same art films that play at the Gables cinema. (Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles, for example, is currently showing the Mexican drama A Monster with a Thousand Heads, which is now playing at the Gables. )
In a letter to Krams, John C. Charters, vice president of development for Merrick Park, offered free signage at the proposed new venue and other cross-promotion efforts to ensure the continued success of the Gables cinema. He also committed to an annual $5,000 sponsorship for five years, beginning when the new theater opens.
“We are confident that we can do this in an environment that will permit both theaters to operate successfully,” Charters wrote. “We have been assured by our tenant [Landmark] that they will not try to impact the Art Cinema’s film selection and in fact are comfortable allowing both operations to show the same movies at the same time.”
In the past, Landmark has been accused of strong-arming smaller single-venues into bankruptcy. According to a report in The Washington Post, theater owner Josh Levin was forced to shutter his three-screen West End arthouse in Washington D.C. in March 2015 because he was unable to compete with the bigger chains. Landmark then took over his lease and reopened the venue, which still operates today.
Ironically, Landmark filed a federal lawsuit in January against Regal Cinemas, accusing the nation’s largest theater chain of monopolizing hit movies such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens.