By Sally Voth - firstname.lastname@example.org
Apple Blossom Mall is getting its first facelift since it opened 30 years ago.
Along with the aesthetic changes to the mall, a completely new 12-screen cinema featuring a "BIGD" auditorium will be built.
The six-screen movie theater attached to the mall will be demolished "pretty soon" to make way for construction of the new one, Carmike Cinema Inc. eastern divisional manager Thomas Bridgman said following a press conference at the mall Wednesday morning.
During the press conference, Bridgman described the BIGD auditorium as "absolutely an amazing experience to watch a movie."
"We provide dynamic sound, dimensional sight and deluxe seating," Bridgman said.
The auditorium will feature a screen stretching more than 60 feet wide and three stories tall, 7.1 surround sound, a "cutting-edge Christie Brilliant 3D flash projector," and leather seats arranged stadium style, according to a news release from Carmike.
Bridgman explained that 7.1 surround sound splits the listening channels, with three behind the screen and four surrounding channels. This allows the sound to actually travel circularly around patrons. Carmike can do 11.1 sound, which would have two channels above movie-goers, say, to convey the sense of a helicopter flying overhead, but Hollywood doesn't make movies that way yet, according to Bridgman.
He also said tickets and concessions will be sold from the same stand, and there will be free popcorn and drink refills. Bridgman said the theater lobby will have a 125-flavor Coca-Cola machine.
The theater is expected to be completed by next spring.
However, the mall's makeover won't take nearly as long.
It will include new ceilings, floors, lighting, doors and signs, a renovated food court and a large play zone for small children, architect Nicholas A. Middleton, partner and CEO of CUBE 3 Studio LLC said. He said he expected the renovation to be complete by mid-November, in time for the busiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday.
"Today's a very exciting day," Middleton told the assembled group, which included city politicians, administrators, Sheriff Lenny Milholland and business representatives. "This is a mall that hasn't been renovated in over 30 years. We've been working on these plans for the last six months."
The current entrance to the food court will become the mall's primary entrance, and the food court will be expanded and will include outside seating and a new plaza to the movie theater, he said.
"As you look around here today, you have dark floors, you have some out-of-date lighting," Middleton noted. "Everything will get a nice contemporary look."
The mall will get new tile flooring, the food court's mirrored ceiling will be replaced with a wing-style ceiling, and there will be new restrooms -- including two family bathrooms -- in the food court, he said.
There will be carpeted areas throughout the mall with soft seating, according to Middleton, and a new enclosed play area for little ones. The play area will be in the Belk's wing of the store and will be 1,200 square feet, Larry Nelson, Apple Blossom Mall's marketing and business development director, said after the press conference.
Winchester Mayor Elizabeth Minor pronounced the mall's planned upgrade as "long, long over-due."
"This is a great day for Apple Blossom Mall and our community," she said.
It's also one that was expected to have occurred several years earlier.
Maryland-based RC Theatres signed a lease with the mall four years ago. It had planned a free-standing 16-screen movie theater near the Belk anchor store. It was to be part of a "lifestyle redevelopment" of the mall, which was also going to include upgraded interiors and new restaurants and stores.
The poor economy put those plans on hold, according to a winter 2010 email from Les Morris, public relations director for Simon Property Group, which owns the mall.
Nelson declined to discuss the prior renovation plans Wednesday afternoon.
Randy Collins, CEO and president of the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber, urged area residents to support the mall.
"The importance of retail in any community is paramount to the economy," he said. "The mall, kind of like the hospital, is taken for granted.
"[Apple Blossom Mall provides] a lot of jobs, [pays] a lot of taxes, and it's a place people can come and get done what they need to get done. These types of projects are not inexpensive."
There are likely some people in the community who've never been to the mall, Collins said.
"Now would be the time to come to Apple Blossom," he said.
The mall's original manager when it opened in October 1982 also attended the press conference. George Ferguson said he managed the mall for nearly seven years.
"[The plans are] very exciting because it's way over-due," he said after the conference. "It had been talked about many times over the years. I'm just so happy it's finally come to fruition. Can hardly wait for it to happen."
Terrell Mayton, marketing director for Carmike, said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon there are 13 Carmike theaters across the country featuring a BIGD auditorium.
"The whole theater will be state-of-the-art," he said of the planned Apple Blossom 12. "Our BIGD is considered in the industry to be the leading edge of technology. It looks like high-definition television on steroids."
The auditorium featuring the BIGD will have light output of 30,000 lumens and wide-backed seats. The other screens will also be large, with 5.1 surround sound and digital projectors, Mayton said.