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Cineplex offers comfort, extras with its films

The Baltimore Sun

The marquee won't be completed for another week or so. There's a temporary surface on the bar in the lobby. Wood trim needs to be swapped out in certain places.

But even without the final adjustments, it's clear that the new Landmark Theatres cineplex has the potential to be a powerful addition to the mini-city that is taking shape in the Harbor East renewal area between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point.

It can't be compared with the cavernous downtown movie palaces that drew patrons decades ago. This is not your granddad's movie house, or even your dad's.

It's more like a contemporary twist on the neighborhood theaters that once added life to city streets, an urban cineplex for the 21st century.

The $15 million project was designed by Development Design Group of Baltimore, with Jim Andreone as principal in charge. DDG is responsible for heavily themed Muvico theaters around the country, including the Egyptian-styled multiplex at Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover.

In this case, the Landmark complex is part of a mixed-use development that takes up a full city block and includes two hotels, a condominium tower, garage, health club and street-level shops. It's more efficient in the way it uses space, less "themey."

The entrance is at 645 President St., facing the circle where President meets Aliceanna. Temporary red lettering that says Landmark Theatres rests on a steel frame above the entrance. A more theatrical glass canopy has been designed by Adam Cook of Beatty Harvey and Associates, the architect for the rest of the building, known as "Parcel B." The glass is due to arrive from Canada this month, and a permanent sign will be added after that. When all this is in place, the theaters will have a stronger presence on the street.

Inside, the cineplex occupies two levels of the building. The first, at street level, includes the box office, lobby, a bar and concessions area. The seven auditoriums start one level down. Patrons can buy their tickets at box-office windows off the sidewalk or from automated ticket machines inside the lobby.

The lobby was designed as a transitional space between the street and the auditoriums downstairs, and a pleasant place to wait for the movies to start. The first thing patrons see when they go inside the front doors is the bar, which is screened off from the rest of the lobby and has room for several dozen people to sit or stand. Farther inside is the concession stand, which features gourmet fare as well as popcorn and soda.

The architects used red and white glazed tiles on lobby walls -- with the deep reds representing a rare throwback to old movie palace decor.

"You see that a lot in theater history," Andreone said. "The deep red is reminiscent of the plush movie palaces of the '30s and '40s."

In general, the look of the lobby is contemporary, with high ceilings and exposed mechanical systems, painted black. The designers made extensive use of plasma screens to promote films and showtimes. One wall doubles as a retail display, with niches with DVDs and CDs for sale.

When they're ready to see a show, patrons can head downstairs to the auditoriums, which have 110 to 220 seats. Showtimes are staggered, so films won't all start or end at once. More plasma screens with images of the movies showing inside mark the entrances.

The auditoriums feature stadium-style, black-leather upholstered foam seats, 26 inches wide, with cupholders in the armrests. Rows are curved in the front and straight farther from the screen. One row in each auditorium has seats for people in wheelchairs, next to fixed seats for companions who aren't.

Although the screens aren't as large as those in old movie palaces, the theaters were designed for state-of-the-art projection. Select auditoriums have a "4K" digital system that can deliver four times the resolution of high-definition TVs.

The architects have incorporated several features that take advantage of the urban setting. The box office includes a lobby counter for a concierge, who can make special arrangements for moviegoers. Patrons can stop at the bar whether they stay for a movie or not. One auditorium stage can be used by individuals or small groups for presentations other than movies, even concerts. It can also double as a conference room, in case nearby hotels need overflow meeting space.

The real test of any theater is the product exhibitors offer, starting with the shows they book and the prices they charge. Atmosphere and amenities matter, too. Seven theaters are hardly as many as the Muvico 24 at Arundel Mills, but they still give Landmark plenty of flexibility for programming. Landmark can show a different movie in each auditorium, or use two or more theaters to show the same movie.

The design, too, gives Landmark a flexible, patron-friendly setting that can be adapted to respond to changes in the market, even as the market itself grows and changes.

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