Movie theaters making urban return

Studio C
A rendering of the proposed theater project for downtown Grand Rapids.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — They were once a staple of downtown life: ornate theaters with brightly lit marquees, often billed as movie palaces.

But as the flight from the city to the suburbs took hold, the number of downtown movie theaters began to decline in the 1960s and 70s.

Jack Loeks, who owned the Midtown Theater on Pearl Street in Grand Rapids, saw the trend in 1965 and built Studio 28th on 28th Street in suburban Wyoming.

“It was the first multiplex anywhere in the country… [in] the world, for that matter,” said Eric Kuiper, the chief creative officer for the Loeks Celebration Cinema brand.

And now, the company Loeks built is noticing another trend — one that suggests what goes around comes around.

Tuesday, the Grand Rapids City Commission will be asked to sign off on a development agreement that would bring a nine-screen movie theater to downtown Grand Rapids, which would be the first screens downtown in decades.

“It’s a wonderful story for the company, but it’s really the story of Grand Rapids, and urban America, where we’re coming back to these urban centers, where our lives overlap with each in ways they don’t out in the suburbs,” Kuiper said.

The development, named Studio C, is part of a $100 million project proposed for what’s currently two city-owned lots, lots 4 and 5, south of Van Andel Arena.

A rendering of the proposed theater project for downtown Grand Rapids.

The developer will buy the lots.

Grand Rapids’ Downtown Development Authority has already signed off on the project, which includes approximately $25 million in various tax reimbursements to the developer over the next 15 to 30 years for site and infrastructure improvements.

Phase one of the project includes apartments, a hotel, retail shops and a year-round public gathering spot.

Some downtown parking advocates will argue the loss of city lots 4 and 5 will add to a shortage of parking spaces downtown.

Phase one of the project will create 750 to 900 spaces, and Kuiper says even with the additional parking traffic the project is expected to generate, he doesn’t believe parking will be an issue.

A future, $30 million phase two is also planned for the project.

“Increasingly, people want to orient their lives around urban centers,” Kuiper said. “That is the trend.”

And movie theaters are part of that.

Grand Rapids isn’t the only place in West Michigan seeing a return of the downtown movie theater.

A developer in Holland has proposed a multimillion-dollar theater complex for 8th Street.

24 Hour News 8 has also learned the Alamo Draft House — Kalamazoo’s downtown theater bar and restaurant complex which closed earlier this year, has been purchased by the AMC movie chain.

Kuiper admits, there’s no guarantee the trend will pay off everywhere.

“It’s a tricky endeavor to sustain the theater in an urban area, which is why a lot of them left and couldn’t make it,” Kuiper said.