Regal Rivergate Cinema 14 closes its doors

Regal Rivergate Cinema 14, where the futuristic, neon-ringed facade was a beacon of commercial growth in north Macon when it opened nearly two decades ago, dimmed its lights for the final time Sunday night.

But the movie house’s next act may well take showtime there to glitzier heights — possibly by Thanksgiving — if the theater’s new owners have their way.

Plans call for a $1-million, state-of-the-art overhaul — new seats, carpet and wall-coverings — of the multiplex near the corner of Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard and Northside Drive.

Marty Felts, president and CEO of Alabama-based Naos Entertainment, which will make the Macon venue its third theater undertaking, said Sunday that the cineplex will be called The Edge 14.

“It’s just a catchy name,” Felts said in a telephone interview. “We like our signage and we like our logos. When we were coming up with the concept, it was that we were really on the cutting edge of technology.”

Regal Cinemas Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn., could not be reached for comment on shutting down its Macon operation Sunday.

A source familiar with the particulars of the closing, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about it, said employees at Regal Rivergate Cinema 14 had known about the situation for a few days. The theater, which opened in November 1991 and has about 20 people on its staff, had become something of an alternative entertainment destination as it aged and as another, newer movie house, AmStar Cinema 16, came on the scene in the summer of 1999.

“It’s like driving a 2000-model car and somebody pulls up in a 2010,” the source said of Rivergate’s second-tier status.

Felts and his company, headquartered about 40 miles southwest of Montgomery in Greenville, Ala., opened The Edge 8 next to a Greenville Wal-Mart in 2007. Naos Entertainment plans to open a 12-screen theater in Birmingham next month.

Felts said furnishings and upgrades at the Macon multiplex will be similar to those in the company’s other theaters.

According to the Naos website, all auditoriums feature “wall-to-wall screens, stadium seating with 18-inch risers for backs and lifting cup holder arm rests for the ultimate in comfort.”

Currently eight of Rivergate’s theaters feature tiered, so-called “stadium” seating, and Felts said plans call for configuring all 14 that way.

“We don’t know if we’re going to get all 14 screens open by Christmas ... (but) when you walk in there you’ll think it’s a new place,” he said. “We’re a little innovative. We won’t have a box office. ... People will buy tickets at the concession stands. They’ll do self-serve drinks, so any size drink you buy you’ll get a free refill.”

Felts said the theater, which will show first-run films, could employ as many as 50 people.

“We’ve really taken the slow times in the market as an opportunity for growth. So we kind of fly in the face of a lot of folks’ theory about slowing things down,” he said.

He said demolition of the theater lobby could begin within a week and will make way for an expanded concession stand, new restrooms and a new game room.

He said the facelift will “hopefully make that thing as good as it was in its glory days.”

Felts said the deal to expand to Macon came about after the Rivergate site recently became available.

“The shopping-center owner bought them out and we did a new lease,” he said.

Felts thinks the full-scale spruce-up will give Macon moviegoers a choice.

“We plan on doing as much or more business than the AmStar across town,” he said. “As old and antiquated as the (Rivergate) seats were ... it still did about 20 percent of the business in town.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.