Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, the quirky Austin-based theater chain known for its beer and food service, is expanding into downtown Los Angeles.
The cinema chain, which specializes in independent and repertory films, will open its first L.A. theater at 7th and Flower streets next year, company executives said. Alamo has developed a cult following for its special events, in-seat food and drink service, and themed movie nights.
The Alamo Drafthouse Downtown will have nine screens and seat about 800 people. It will be a high-profile tenant for the mammoth redevelopment project named the Bloc, catering to the expanding population of downtown residents.
"Alamo Drafthouse has reinvigorated the movie-watching experience, much the way we intend to re-imagine the traditional retail and entertainment experience and enliven the 7th Street corridor with the Bloc," said project developer Wayne Ratkovich, founder and president of Ratkovich Co.
Ratkovich bought the former Macy's Plaza last year and went to work on a $180-million makeover intended to turn the dated mall, hotel and office complex into a gathering center in downtown's burgeoning financial district.
The renovation involves removing the mall's glass atrium roof and ripping out ground-level brick walls to puncture its fortress-like exterior and bring stores and restaurants to the adjacent sidewalks. The Alamo Drafthouse will be on the southwest corner next to Macy's third floor.
Terms of the Alamo lease are close to being finalized.
Tim League, chief executive and co-founder of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, has been eyeing the L.A. market for several years. Drafthouse already has ties to the city through its small movie distribution company that releases esoteric, independent films.
"I spent a lot of time and energy working on that. I thought it would be great to have a home in L.A. for the product that we release," League said.
The company, which has been lauded by some publications as the best theater chain in America, currently has 19 locations and has eight more under construction. Although it mainly operates in Texas, Alamo has been expanding nationwide, adding new venues in Colorado, Virginia, New York and now California.
League said the Los Angeles location was ideal because of downtown growth and the Bloc's planned underground connection to the 7th Street/Metro Center, which will eventually connect to Santa Monica and Pasadena.
"It's the growing residential sector downtown that got me really excited about the neighborhood," League said. "With the Bloc, we finally found the perfect location and partner to bring our brand of cinema to the birthplace of the industry."
The expansion would be Alamo's second theater in California. Another Alamo is under construction in San Francisco and is set to open later this year or in early 2015.
It also marks the latest addition to an increasingly competitive market for independent and art house cinema in Southern California.
Several independent and commercial theater chains have expanded in the L.A. market in recent years, including Robert Redford's Sundance Cinemas, which opened an indie cinema house in West Hollywood in 2012; and ArcLight Cinemas, which is set to open a 14-screen luxury theater in Santa Monica next spring.
Large commercial chains also have been expanding in the L.A. market, including AMC, Mexico theater chain Cinepolis and Regal Cinemas L.A. Live Stadium 14, operated by AEG. The latter will be Alamo's closest competitor in downtown L.A. in addition to the Downtown Independent, which screens art house fare.
Many of the new venues offer a mix of specialty movies and premium services, such as commercial-free movies and food and beverage service that Alamo helped popularize.
"We're extremely excited to welcome Alamo Drafthouse to downtown Los Angeles," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. "Their unique brand of innovation and showmanship embodies the best traditions of our city's film industry."
Alamo Drafthouse Downtown will feature a mix of new releases, independent and repertory films, foreign movies, as well as Alamo's signature special programming events.
Each of the auditoriums will be equipped with 4K digital projection and will eliminate the traditional front row to maximize the viewing experience.
Waiters will quietly serve patrons, who can place orders for food and drinks from a "state-of-the-art culinary kitchen." The theater will also offer a craft beer bar featuring an extensive array of California brews.
By creating a unique moviegoing experience, including a famously strict no talking or texting policy, Alamo executives say they have been able to grow even in a down market. Whereas industrywide box-office revenue is down this year compared with a year ago, revenue at Alamo is up nearly 3%, League said.
Tim and Karrie League founded Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in 1997 as a single-screen mom-and-pop repertory theater in Austin. The couple got their start in the business when Tim League left a job at Shell Oil in Bakersfield to operate the Tejon Theater in Bakersfield.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun