When I first heard news Magic Lantern Theatres was building a five-screen movie theatre complex, I have to be honest, I couldn’t believe it.
It had to be an April Fool’s joke, I thought. Then I looked at the calendar: July 12, 2016.
This is no joke, folks, it’s for real. North Battleford is finally getting a state-of-the-art movie theatre with full digital projection and stadium seating.
For some moviegoers in the Battlefords in recent years, a trip to the movies has meant hitting the road to Saskatoon and wasting good money to fill up the tank with gas for each trip.
Movie fans would waste 90 minutes of their lives each way to Saskatoon and have braved blizzards, thunderstorms, floods, traffic and even panhandlers on the streets outside Scotiabank Theatre, just to see a movie.
Now, not only might you be able to see that long-awaited movie right here in the Battlefords, for a change, but you might actually have money left over to afford the popcorn.
The location is right next to the liquor store in the “King Street Station” area. This property has been identified by City planners for years as a potential entertainment destination.
The City’s business development department has actually worked for years trying to attract a new movie theatre to that general area.
I remember talking to Denis Lavertu, the City’s former director of business development, years ago about King Street Station and he had said at the time the plan was to attract a new movie theatre there. So it’s been on the books for years.
As it turns out, the current business development team led by Jennifer Niesink was instrumental in approaching Magic Lantern and selling them on the concept of a downtown theatre.
For North Battleford, this immediately goes a long way to solving a ton of civic problems in its much-maligned downtown.
Consultants that have come before City Hall have cited the need to have some sort of major venue downtown — a stadium, a concert venue, an aquarium — in order to bring people in and revive the core.
Now, just as Saskatoon has the Scotiabank Theatre complex anchoring downtown, North Battleford has found that “anchor tenant.”
With it will come plenty of potential customers, all of whom will be looking for something to do after the movie is over. Perhaps restaurants and other businesses will be encouraged to come downtown to cater to the clientele.
Personally, I didn’t care where a new movie theatre was going to be located, whether it was downtown or in the southeast quandrant, or the north end of town. I just wanted the darned thing built, already, so I’m glad this is happening.
I want to say something now about Magic Lantern. My familiarity with the company really has to do with its chain of “Rainbow Cinemas” that it opened across the country.
The company built itself up by taking over several empty cinemas abandoned in smaller communities, as well as several big-city cinemas that Cineplex had closed in the 2000s.
One of those multiplexes was located in the Toronto neighbourhood that I lived in during that time. The theatre got a new paint job after Rainbow Cinemas took it over, and featured many second-run releases at cheap prices. It was a good option if I didn’t want to hop on the subway to go to the fancier cinemas downtown.
While Rainbow is the “second-run” brand, Magic Lantern is the “first-run” brand known for family-friendly atmospheres and reasonable ticket prices.
It sounds like this particular Magic Lantern will be a step up from its other cinemas simply because it will have “stadium seating.” That’s what all the fancy new cinemas have these days. As well, they will have digital projection. In general, I have high hopes for them.
There are unanswered questions about what exactly the selection will be like at the new theatre complex, and also what the future holds for the Capitol. It sounds as if the Capitol was caught by surprise.
Too bad. The movie business is a tough, competitive one and there is always the threat of a competitor swooping in. The cinema business is especially cutthroat. They must compete, not only against other cinemas, but sports arenas and live theatres, not to mention big-screen TVs at home.
If other cinema chains offer stadium seats or VIP suites, or 3D, or fancy food or liquor or whatever, you have to deal with it in whatever way you can. Magic Lantern Theatres is in the exact same boat as other theatre chains. Their approach against the big chains like Cineplex is to offer cheaper tickets and good amenities in underserved locations — places like Camrose, St. Paul and Peace River in Alberta.
Now they see a prime opportunity to bring the Battlefords something better than what’s already here. This is capitalism, pure and simple.
Good for Magic Lantern on making their investment in North Battleford. Brett Wilson would be proud. Heck, Kevin O’Leary would be proud, too.
The bottom line is there is new hope now for movie fans in the Battlefords. News that a new theatre is coming has been met by uniformly positive reaction from residents desperate to have something to cheer about.
Moreover, we should hear far less of the complaining from frustrated residents about how there is “little to do in the Battlefords.” With a new theatre and more movie screens to choose from, there will indeed be something more to do for the people here, and for people considering moving here.
The future looks bright for North Battleford and its movie fanatics. It’s about time.