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Regal chain buys Lawrence's Hollywood Theaters; speculation begins on whether upgrade is in the future


If I were at the movie theater pulling contraband Walgreens candy out of my coat pocket and eating $7 popcorn (I haven’t yet perfected the process for sneaking a popcorn popper into the theater), this may be the point in the movie where the heroic-type of music starts to build.

There’s growing speculation — but no confirmation yet — that a knight on a white horse is going to come dashing onto the scene and make some improvements at Lawrence’s Hollywood Theaters on South Iowa Street.

Regal Entertainment Group, the country’s largest theater chain, has purchased the Hollywood Theaters chain. The deal closed on April 1.

The acquisition has launched speculation that Lawrence’s Hollywood Theater location is going to get an upgrade at the very least. The Hollywood Theater at 34th and Iowa streets continues to be the only chain-operated theater in the city. Liberty Hall in downtown is an independent theater that shows a lot of the independent productions. If I wanted to be a snob, I would say it shows films, not movies. (I would explain the difference, but I was trying to figure out how to sneak a popcorn popper into my History of Film class when that subject came up.)

Local officials at the Hollywood Theaters location weren’t saying much about their plans. I’ve got a call into Regal’s corporate office, and I will let you know if I hear anything interesting.

But I can tell you it is a location several members of the development community are keeping an eye on. They have seen indications that a project may be on the horizon.

It would make sense because it certainly appears that the Lawrence theater is facing stiffer competition from several upscale theaters in Kansas City, particularly the multi-screen theater at The Legends in nearby Wyandotte County.

Hollywood built its Lawrence theater in 1997, and recently people have been asking why the company hasn’t made improvements as the area competition has stiffened. Well, the recent acquisition by Regal may have provided some clues. Simply put, Hollywood — based in Portland, Ore. — was a pretty small player in the movie theater business. It had 43 theaters with a total of 513 screens. Regal has 537 theaters with about 6,800 screens.

The acquisition also made it clear that Hollywood was pretty heavily leveraged. Regal paid $191 million in cash for the Hollywood chain, and of that, $167 million went to pay off Hollywood’s debt.

Regal, on the other hand, posted a strong financial year in 2012. Due to debt management and some acquisitions, the company posted earnings of about $145 million, up more than 250 percent from a year earlier. One of Regal’s chief competitors in the theater industry is Kansas City metro-based AMC Theaters. So, maybe Lawrence can benefit from a rivalry. Plus, you have to figure that at least one person with Regal connections knows Lawrence. For years, Philip Anschutz, one of KU’s most successful alumni, has been the largest shareholder of Regal.

It is too early to say what Regal may do in Lawrence. But it sure appears this may be Lawrence’s best chance in awhile to see an upgrade in its largest movie theater. Personally, I hope they at least add more electric outlets near the seating area. Sneaking a popcorn machine in there is one thing. Sneaking an extension cord in is another.

UPDATE: I spoke briefly Thursday afternoon with Regal spokesman Russ Nunley. He said the company doesn't currently have any capital improvement plans to announce for the location. He said company officials had been on site at the Lawrence property, and found it to be a high quality facility that was well located.

"We are impressed with Southwind," Nunley said. "We think Southwind is an exceptional theater."

Nunley said the company has kept the same staff in place as it transitions to Regal ownership. Nunley said the company's current plans are to keep the Hollywood Southwind name in place for the theater.


booklover2 5 years, 2 months ago

That theater really needs an upgrade. The seats are uncomfortable and so close together. By the time the movie is over, your legs have gone to sleep and you have to stay through all of the credits at the end in order for the circulation to come back so you can stand up and walk out of there.

jack22 5 years, 2 months ago

I agree with you and nonsense, I have a few friends that go to Olathe to watch movies because they think our local theatres are so outdated. A complete remodel would be money well spent if they're looking to compete with other area theatres.

Frank A Janzen 5 years, 2 months ago

I always stay local. It helps the economy. Plus, going out of town means you pay extra for the gas. With this new purchase of the Hollywood Theater, you can bet the prices will go UP!! I attend Liberty Hall Cinema; much better films there and very convenient.

chootspa 5 years, 2 months ago

If I find a movie special enough to see in a theater, I'm ok spending the gas money to see it in KC. If they improved the facilities here, I'd stay here. I might even attend movies more often.

Nonsense 5 years, 2 months ago

We haven't gone there in years. There is no reason to go there when you can hop in the car and be at the Legends in 15 minutes. Much better screens, seating, and food. If they upgrade the screens and projection and get the recliner seating, we will at least try it again.

Ricky_Vaughn 5 years, 2 months ago

Lawrence used to have like 6 movie theaters. Why only 2 these days?

MarcoPogo 5 years, 2 months ago

Well, Granada and Varsity each only had one screen, Cinema Twin had two and Hillcrest had five so we had roughly the same number of screens in town. Anyone remember what year Dickinson rolled in? Things started getting hinky at that point. (Granada and the Sunset were kaput by then, I believe. And Cinema Twin switched to being the dollar theater. The fire at Hillcrest sealed their fate.)

tiredoflawrence 5 years, 2 months ago

The dickinson closed between 98-00, The fire at the hillcrest happend after it was closed. It closed as a movie theater in aug/sept. of 98.

Ira Rott 5 years, 2 months ago

That's good, I recently went to an Imax showing of Skyfall in Olathe and it was CRAZY how much better everything was at their theater, such comfortable chairs, better concessions, etc.

waitjustaminute 5 years, 2 months ago

Quit going there sometime ago after a friend who went had a mouse crawl up his leg, ran across his arm and launched onto the chair next to him. I'd been outa there seconds after that demanding my money back.

John Sheppard 5 years, 2 months ago


ljwhirled 5 years, 2 months ago


Chuck Woodling 5 years, 2 months ago

If Southwind is "an exceptional theater," then the downtown Masonic Temple is the Taj Mahal.

JJLawTop 5 years, 2 months ago

"exceptional theater"? Seriously? I'm 6'5" and literally can't sit in the seats due to the lack of leg room between each row. I haven't been to Southwind in years because of that and how dirty it always was. Instead, I gladly spend the extra 40 minute round trip to Legends for a much better experience.

Eddie Muñoz 5 years, 2 months ago

"Exceptional theater"? Really? REALLY? Makes me wonder what condition their other theaters are in these days.

mseve 5 years, 2 months ago

you don't have to be that tall to be uncomfortable in the seats...

gccs14r 5 years, 2 months ago

One of the screens had a beverage thrown at it about ten years ago and as far as I know the stain is still there. And yes, the whole complex is dirty and smells terrible, so I go there only if someone gives me a free pass, and then I sometimes still don't go. (Yes, I've let free movie tickets expire rather than go to the Southwind 12.)

AMC is now Chinese-owned, so I'm not thrilled to go there, either.

Kookamooka 5 years, 2 months ago

Basically the Regal guy is saying...we don't have any competition in Lawrence, so why upgrade? It is a well run facility. Don't hold your breath on those upgrades.

If LightLyre film house was smart...it would purchase a space and convert it into a dollar house. OR....how about a 2.00 drive in? Wireless sound?

mseve 5 years, 2 months ago

KRichards you mention the seating is cramped if you are over 5'10" it is if you are 5'8".

We go to KC to see movies or wait for them to hit Netflix

Patricia Davis 5 years, 2 months ago

I gave up years ago when you stuck to the soda sugar floor and got god's knows what on your hands from the seats.

kernal 5 years, 2 months ago

It takes as much time for me to get to Olathe as Southwind. Not changing my preference until Regal learns what the word exceptional means.

JJLawTop 5 years, 2 months ago

Chad, you should do an LJWorld website poll on this issue to see how many people that live in Lawrence would rather drive 20-30 minutes to a KC area theater versus going to Southwind 12.

PhilChiles 5 years, 2 months ago

I don't go out to see movies too often, but I really can't find much to complain about with Southwind. The seating is pretty comfortable, sound/picture are all good...seems like people on this site really love any reason to rip into anything that isn't perfect.

Steve Jacob 5 years, 2 months ago

AMC 30 is awesome. Love the $5 shows before noon. Exactly a 30 minute drive from Harper and 23ed.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 2 months ago

Sam Brownback gave AMC $47 million tax $$$$$ last year off the back of workers income tax money. No new jobs were created they merely relocated from the Missouri side to the Kansas side. Following that gross waste of tax $$$$$ spending a Chinese investment group acquired AMC while former AMC owners walked away with $47 million Kansas tax $$$$$.

Who is Regal Theatres? Don't expect too much. This is an investment to stockholders nothing more .....

For all we know Regal is a slumlord.

My favorite theatre for movie and sound quality is the Theatre on the plaza. Then again it's a bit more than across town. So much for that.

Liberty Hall is quite the place for movies = the absolute preference!

saraj 5 years, 2 months ago

We would love to see some of the movies offered by Liberty Hall but the sound system is so poor we've given up. Too bad some of that renovation money was not used to make it 'hearing friendly'.

madcow 5 years, 2 months ago

I see a lot of movies but I have only been to southwind 3 times in the last 6-7 years. I would much rather drive to Olathe. Larger seats, cleaner, bigger screens, and the option to drink a beer if I want to.

foxli 5 years, 2 months ago

Regal is missing a great opportunity to bring business back to the theater if they don't refurbish it at the very least. Everyone I know prefers the trek to AMC 30; I know I haven't been to Southwind in at least a couple of years. Bigger screens with higher quality projection, more comfortable seats, and improved concessions would be a great start. I'd be thrilled if they reserved one screen for 21-and-overs and served cocktails, beers, and dinner.

Ben Lockwood 5 years, 2 months ago

Lawrence KS has one theater. One sad, old, uncomfortable, dirty theater. I went to see Jurassic Park 3D there last night, and several things jumped out at me. The façade of the building reflects the overall feeling of Hollywood Theater 21 – run down, poorly maintained, and bizarrely mismanaged. Going to see a movie is a challenge. You never know what door you can enter, because they seem to randomly lock them, making getting inside a sad game of musical doors. Once you get your ticket, either from the 90’s era self-ticket kiosk or the subway conductor behind the glass, you enter the lobby. Usually dirty, and staffed by unpleasant teenagers, you notice there is no advanced soda fountain where you have tons of drinks to choose from; no, you have to wait in lines. I mean, wait. In. lines. Once you get to the theater, you better be under 6 feet tall, or you’ll be cramped.

Lawrence needs a new, nicer theater. The Hollywood 21 is for saps, I tell you.

Ricky_Vaughn 5 years, 2 months ago

Cinemark 20 in Merriam...$6 adult/$4 matinee. Best deal in the metro area IMO.

Steve Jacob 5 years, 2 months ago

The fact that had such a big issue with bedbugs late last year and where not very open about it scares me from that place.

Zype 5 years, 2 months ago

Why would you need an outlet next to you? To play on the phone that is supposed to be off? To power your video camera?

Andrew Reeves 5 years, 2 months ago

To power his popcorn popper, Zype. Don't you bring one with you as well? We all do!

Rae Hudspeth 5 years, 2 months ago

They may have said that they kept the staff but that's not true. Unnatural colored hairstyles, visible tattoos and/or piercings got several of them let go. In Lawrence. Now that's a rotten shame.

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