GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The newly revamped theater at Woodland Mall will welcome its first moviegoers Thursday.
The grand opening of Phoenix Theatres at Woodland Mall comes about a year after Phoenix Theatres owner Cory Jacobson first stepped into the shuttered cinema.
“This has become the four seasons project from when we first walked in the door,” Jacobson said. “It feels good that it’s spring and we’re opening up because it just seems like a time for renewal.”
Of the 14 cinema renovation projects Jacobson has tackled in his 40-plus years in the theater industry, he says this one has taken the longest.
“It absolutely is the most challenging, and also incidentally the most fun because you’re just painting on this enormous canvas here. I think that in itself makes it entertaining and fun,” Jacobson said.
“This is really sort of our greatest hits album, if you can use those terms,” said Jordan Hohman, project development executive and theater general manager. “When you walk through the building, you see all of our greatest hits kind of put together in one. And that feels very… it’s just cool.”
How has the theater changed? Here’s a breakdown of the numbers:
$4.3 million: Jacobson estimates he has invested about this much into the theater at Woodland Mall, which used to be owned by Celebration Cinema. He told News 8 it would have cost nearly five times that if they had torn everything down and rebuilt the theater. Jacobson said his team curbed some of the cost by stepping in and doing some of the work themselves.
“It’s like a version of ‘This Old House’ on a grand scale,” he said. “You can really let your mind go free and do a lot of fun things. Life is going to be pretty boring when this is done because this is fun, this is interesting. Your imagination starts to run free a little bit when you start to see this all come together.
“We’ve done a lot of that along the way here where you just sort of add onto the project in little ways to make it special and give it personality.”
8 months: This is how long the renovations took — roughly four times longer than it takes Phoenix Theatres to typically reopen a cinema. Jacobson said the biggest challenge was the stadium seating platforms, which had to be extended with steel supports to accommodate the heated reclining seats Phoenix Theatres uses.
“Each piece (of steel) had to be individually cut and put in place. That is just thousands and thousands of cuts of steel and an enormous amount of labor,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson said supply chain problems also delayed the truckloads of drywall and materials needed for the building, “but with the help of a lot of people we’ve been able to navigate through all of these problems.”
14 auditoriums: Phoenix Theatres is home to 14 auditoriums, which meant contractors had replace carpeting, seating, screens, systems and add lighting 14 times.
“You can kind of see light at the end of the tunnel which is refreshing because for the longest time… day after day, it’s just been a construction site,” Hohman said. “Really I think the turning point for me at least was once you saw the carpet start to come in and the seats. I think that those finishings are really what make it start to feel like a movie theater.”
4 Dolby ATMOS systems: The high-tech 3-D soundscape uses 43 speakers installed on the ceiling, side walls, behind the movie screen and at the back of the room in addition to subwoofers installed in each seat to move sound throughout the room, giving viewers the feeling they are in the center of the action.
“It’s something that isn’t going on up here in West Michigan, so why not give it a try? And we just jumped in with both feet and did four auditoriums,” Jacobson said.
The sound system complements Phoenix Theatres’ 4K projection system and new micro-perforated movie screens, which are highly reflective with smaller holes to create a brighter picture while allowing sound to pass through.
“(When) you’re sitting in the auditorium, it’s hard to really describe this feeling, but I almost have to sit there and say, ‘I can’t believe that this is my movie theater.’ It feels like something that you’d go to Disney World to feel and experience, and it’s that immersive. It made the room feel bigger,” Jacobson said. “It’s immersive in a way that you’re not going to get in any other experience, certainly (not) in your living room. I hope the customers find this as exciting as we do it because to sit in that auditorium to me was absolutely thrilling.”
50th screen: The Woodland Mall venue marks a milestone for Southeast Michigan-based Phoenix Theatres: the company’s 50th movie screen.
Phoenix Theatres is also aiming to start the new theater with 50 employees.
2 marquees: Some of those potential employees were buzzing when the first glittering sign for Phoenix Theatres went up a few months ago.
“Everybody’s all excited to come and check it out. I mean, you’ve got people that are driving by in the car and they’re literally stopping, looking at this,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson said the theater’s first marquee was inspired by a Milwaukee theater sign from his childhood, which also had individual letters that light up and twinkle. The team behind the sign also incorporated some design elements from the Chicago Theatre’s iconic 1928 sign.
The Phoenix Theatres team was so impressed with the first sign, they asked for a smaller, horizontal version for the theater’s entryway.
“That’s I guess a sign of our expensive tastes going back at it again,” Jacobson said.
39 historical tributes: On the walls of the theater’s promenade hall are 39 frames filled with historical photographs, ticket stubs, movie flyers and other memorabilia from Grand Rapids’ theaters of the past.
Historian Michael Hauser teamed up with Hohman to find the items, which pay homage to more than 80 years of movie-going history. Phoenix Theatres has also named each auditorium for a classic theater in West Michigan.
2 wine dispensers: Behind the counter of Phoenix Theaters’ concession stand are two wine dispensers that will soon hold up to eight bottles of wine altogether.
Hohman says the theater will serve wine in tumblers guests can take home.
“We saw these in a hotel that we were staying at a few years ago. Ever since, we were like, ‘Man, that’s really the right way to serve wine. People who are there who want to drink wine want something that’s nice, not something that is in a plastic cup or something like that,” Hohman said.
Phoenix Theatres also plans to serve beer after the state OKs its liquor license. Hohman anticipates that approval will come in the next couple months.
$10 tickets: Phoenix Theatres is throwing out the complex pricing model many theaters use, opting instead for a flat price of $10 per ticket. Gone are higher ticket prices at peak times, as well as senior, veteran and student discounts.
“We’re trying something new and different, so we’ll see. We hope people like it,” Jacobson said, adding that he always pays full price for his tickets and concessions to understand the guest experience.
Jacobson and Hohman will celebrate the completion of their newest theater with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday with a ceremonial ribbon cutting event at 6 p.m. The theater’s inaugural lineup of films includes the debut of “The Secrets of Dumbledore,” “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” “Father Stu,” “Ambulance,” Marvel’s “Morbius,” “The Lost City” and “The Batman.”
The first showing will be Thursday at 1 p.m. Tickets are already available for reservation online at https://phoenixmovies.net.