Planning Commission approves nine-screen multiplex

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i Planning Commission on Tuesday approved a $10 million multiplex cinema project, complete with nine movie screens and 1,274 seats, to be built on the back parking lot of Kmart, at Kukui Grove Center.

The vote came despite testimony from an owner of Kukui Grove Cinema, located 600 yards from the new project, who said he fears his family will have to shut down the business as soon as the new multiplex opens its doors.

Hollywood Theater’s newest multiplex, the Kukui Marketplace Stadium 9, will be nearly 30,000 square feet in size. The commission was told the theater will offer 3D movies, luxury seats, digital projection capabilities and a 67-foot-wide screen — the largest in the state.

The multiplex’s main theater will be able to accommodate up to 299 people. There will be two theaters with 165 seats each, two theaters with 151 seats each, one theater with 94 seats and three theaters with 83 seats each.

Hollywood Theaters president Scott Wallace said by having smaller rooms, the multiplex will be able to show art, foreign and specialty movies which otherwise would not be available to the public.

The Mainland-based company projects the multiplex will  be ready by the summer of 2013, according to company officials.

While some commissioners saw a new, larger and more modern cinema complex as a much-needed amenity for island residents and visitors, others were concerned the country’s eighth-largest motion picture exhibitor, which operates nearly 600 movie screens nationwide, might put out of business a local family that owns the four-screen Kukui Grove Cinema.

“We’ll go out of business. Slowly but surely, we’ll bleed to death,” William Blair, whose family has owned and operated the movie theater across from Kukui Grove Center for more than 20 years, told  planning commissioners.

“You can’t put two theaters 600 yards apart and expect both sides to survive. It won’t happen, it can’t happen,” Blair said, adding that he would lose rights to show better movies.

Responding to concerns from commissioners, Wallace said movie companies would be the ones making decisions regarding exclusive rights to show certain movies.

“But I will say it for the record today that we will never insist upon an exclusive (right) of any movie in this market. We want the public to be able to determine where they want to go,” Wallace said, adding that movie theater companies should be able to use price as a means of competition.

In Kona, Big Island, Hollywood Theaters operates a multiplex 5.5 miles away from Regal Cinemas, the nation’s largest movie-theater company with 6,598 screens, and both establishments usually show the same movies simultaneously, Wallace said.

“We will never stand in the way of having any competitor, including the Waimea Theater, playing whatever film they choose at the same time,” Wallace said.

Besides the four movie screens in Kukui Grove Cinema, the only other option on Kaua‘i for moviegoers is the Historic Waimea Theater on Kaua‘i’s Westside.

Blair said Wallace was not being “totally honest” about how the film industry works.

“I will never see the light of day of a good film again,” said Blair, adding that Wallace will be able to play the same movies for weeks by simply moving them to smaller rooms each week, which would apparently give him an edge on securing better movies.

“I may go out of business immediately because there will be no film for us,” Blair said, adding that Wallace “will control every big film.”

Kukui Grove Cinema used to operate a two-screen movie theater in Coconut Marketplace years ago. Blair said when his family was about to sign a new lease for the Eastside location, Wallace came in with a better offer and took the lease.

The Coconut Marketplace location closed down in 2008 because of high operating costs, according to Blair.

“This man, Scott Wallace, vowed to put us out of business,” he said.

In the 1990s, Wallace approached Blair’s father and was unsuccessful in buying his business, Blair said.

“He told my father he was crazy. He walked out and he said he would put us out of business,” Blair said.

Blair said when his father first came to Kaua‘i, he wanted to build a movie theater at Kukui Grove Center, but he was blocked because the owners of the Longs Drugs store opposed it, citing a lack of parking.

The project approved Tuesday has 200 parking stalls immediately adjacent to it, and cites parking stalls at Kmart and Kukui Grove Center that can be used for over-flow parking.

“I want to know when did Longs change their view,”  Blair said. “Supposedly they are going to get 500 stalls of parking up at the mall. We couldn’t have that. Why does he get it?”

Bidding for movies stopped a long time ago, Blair said. The process now is done through bookers and buyers.

“My brother fights to get films here,” he said. “It’s a very, very tough business.”

Blair also said Grove Farm has a deal with Regal Cinemas to build a complex with 10 movie screens by Lihu‘e Airport.

Grove Farm Vice President Marissa Sandblom said the company is aware of “the other project,” but did not provide comments on Grove Farm’s supposed deal with Regal Cinemas.

“Now we’re talking 23 screens — in Lihu‘e. What happened to the rest of the island? Why not Kapa‘a? Why not Princeville?” Blair said.

Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung repeatedly advised commissioners that the discussion should focus on land use rather than market competition.

The approval for the multiplex came after more than an hour of discussion.

County Planner Ka‘aina Hull read the conclusion on the Planning Department’s staff report.

“It is hereby concluded that the proposed construction and operation of a multiplex cinema at the subject property would be appropriate and compatible (with other uses on the property),” Hull said, omitting the words in parenthesis, which were printed in the staff report. “The use should not be detrimental to (persons,) property or the environment (in the surrounding area).”

The department’s recommendation was to approve the project.

With a quorum of five, Chair Jan Kimura and Commissioner Caven Raco were the only ones voting “aye.” Commissioner Herman Texeira voted “no.”

At least four votes were needed for the approval, reached when Commissioners Hartwell Blake and Cammie Matsumoto voted in silence — silent votes carry with the majority.

Raco said he knows that from a business standpoint there will be competition, but from a community standpoint he feels “the community will at least have a choice.”

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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