Carmike Cinemas expansion picking up speed with acquisitions, new theaters in the pipeline

The aggressive expansion by Carmike Cinemas remains on a rapid pace with a string of acquisitions, theater upgrades and new complexes in the pipeline, including one on the way in Opelika, Ala.

The Columbus-based movie-theater company on Friday said it has bought two theaters with a combined 16 screens in Kentucky and Tennessee from Knoxville, Tenn.-based Phoenix Big Cinemas.

That deal comes only a month after Carmike closed its purchase of 16 theaters and 251 screens from Dallas-based Rave Reviews Cinemas.

At the end of September, the motion-picture exhibitor had 232 theaters (2,242 screens) in 35 states, with most of those digitally equipped and a third of them equipped for 3-D viewing.

Carmike President and Chief Executive Officer David Passman, in a statement issued Friday concerning the Phoenix Big purchase, said such moves in small and mid-size markets are a major part of the firm’s strategy as a “consolidator” in the theater industry.

“In the current environment we believe there are further opportunities to optimize our portfolio through selective acquisitions as we continue on the path toward achieving the company’s strategic goal of expanding our footprint to 300 theaters and 3,000 screens,” he said.

The former Phoenix Big Cinemas movie houses, which have eight screens apiece, are in Madisonville, Ky., and Greeneville, Tenn. They have older analog projection, which means Carmike will immediately start converting the screens to digital.

The Rave Reviews theaters bought by Carmike are in Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

Those acquisitions are on top of its new theater complex openings around the nation. Last week, the company held the grand opening for its Bradley Square 12 complex in Cleveland, Tenn.

That precedes a steady flow of new theaters scheduled to debut in various markets in the coming months, said Carmike marketing director Terrell Mayton.

A new theater will debut in Jacksonville, Fla., next week, he said, followed by one in Decatur, Ala., in early 2013. Those will be followed by new movie houses in Winchester, Va., Sandestin, Fla., Champagne, Ill., Colorado Springs, Colo., Oak Grove, Ky., and El Paso, Texas.

Closer to Columbus, Carmike looks to open a 13-screen complex in nearby Opelika, Ala., in what is known as the Capps Landing development. It will be near the popular Tiger Town shopping and dining center, just east of Interstate 85.

“Construction plans are being developed and drawn up,” said Mayton. “We’re probably looking at March 1 to start construction pending all (city) approvals. It will take 9 or 10 months to build the theater. So we’re looking at the fall timeframe” for opening.

There was a time when Carmike constructed its own theater complexes. But after overbuilding a decade ago and enduring a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, the company decided it was a better financial model to have someone else build the structures, then sign long-term leases on the property.

Related stories from Columbus Ledger-Enquirer