Movie theater coming to Chapel Hill’s University Mall

Nov. 12, 2013 @ 04:42 PM

Chapel Hill’s University Mall is losing an anchor tenant with the closure of Dillard’s early next year, but in its place, a division of a Venezuela-based movie theater company is planning to invest $7 million in a new boutique movie theater.

Planned to open in 2015, the new theater will be one of only a handful of U.S. theaters for Silverspot Cinema, a division of Cines Unidos. The company has an existing theater in Naples, Fla., and it’s planning to open two others in and near Miami, said Gonzalo Ulivi, the company’s CEO. The company also has one planned for Bethesda, Md., according to news release.
Cines Unidos has 30 theaters in cities across Venezuela, Ulivi said, many of them multiplex theaters. However, he said the company opened a boutique theater focused on upgraded services in “very small space” in 2003 that worked well.
The theater at University Mall will show Hollywood blockbusters, 3-D movies, as well as independent and foreign films, according to a news release. In addition, the company plans to show live broadcasts of international opera, ballet and theater performances.
The Dillard’s space will undergo a “complete renovation,” Ulivi said, to create a small theater with a restaurant, 13 screens and a total of 1,400 seats. Three of the screens will have only 46 seats.
“It’s like a private home theater,” he said.
Mall officials announced the lease with the theater company on Tuesday with an event at the mall’s center court. Town officials, including Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, spoke at the event. He praised University Mall as a home for special retailers.
“It’s not Southpoint – thank God,” he said.
The opening of the theater will be a good fit for the community, Kleinschmidt said, adding that he believes it will help to make the mall a destination location.
Pam White, vice president of development for Madison Marquette, the company that owns the mall, also highlighted new mall tenants, including TrySports and the restaurant Plaza Azteca. In addition, businesses have opened, or plan to open, at the mall as a result of the demolition and redevelopment of the University Square shopping center on Franklin Street. 
For Chapel Hill resident Jonathan Crawford, the announcement of the new theater was exactly what he expected to hear. He said he believes Silverspot’s plan is to not be “better, but different.”
He said he believed the movie theater would need to be better than Southpoint Cinemas to compete for Carrboro and Chapel Hill customers.
“I think the Chapel Hill audience is definitely going to be into that,” he said, of Silverspot’s plan to offer foreign and independent films.
Crawford said he believes the mall has a lot of potential as a shopping center with a community feel and eclectic mix of shops, but he also said it would be “kind of doomed” without a good anchor tenant replacement for Dillard’s.
Carrboro resident Mae McLendon was concerned that the mall’s tenant mix is changing to cater to more upscale customers.
She said she believes lower- and middle-income people won’t be able to shop once Dillard’s closes, and if several other tenants follow suit. She said the mall’s tenant mix when it first opened about 40 years ago appealed to a diverse cross-section of the community, including people without cars.
“They keep changing and targeting upper-income Chapel Hillians,” she said.
Pam Williams, the owner of the longtime mall tenant Branching Out, a women’s clothing boutique and gift shop, said she believes the mall is “going in the direction the mall has always wanted” to go, but was never able to achieve before.
It’s shifting from a chain store mall to a mall filled with boutiques.
The theater concept was “incredibly exciting,” she said, adding that she believes that the only way for a movie theater to compete is to do something different.
“And I think it’ll work here in Chapel Hill,” she said. “It’s certainly our mantra to be different.”