The challenges facing anyone wanting to renovate a movie theater are vast and varied. Provided your location is not a total start-from-scratch gut job, here are some of the important things to consider when deciding how to renovate
Be aware that the basic structural integrity of the location is the main concern. The roof, pipes, water heater and electrical system need to be sound, if not, any concerns in these areas will have to be addressed first—as they will be costly. The exterior may also need work. This usually involves painting and possible new signage. If the location is going to remain a commercial venture, the signage may be key. If older, outdated signs are already in place, see if they can be repaired. New signs are expensive, and older signs can often be refurbished for much less and can provide an appealing “retro” look. A couple of prominent national locations for business sign purchases and repair include Sign Solutions and Acme Sign (see Resources).
Remember that the building will have to be current and in-compliance with all city codes applying to movie theaters and may require additional permits for any new activities. If you plan on turning it into, say, a nightclub, there will be additional licenses and permits to acquire—particularly if the renovation requires major seating or capacity requirement changes.
Consider what the future purpose of the facility is going to be. If the theater is going to remain a movie house, at least part of your structural needs are probably already met. You will have seating areas and a projector room in place. You will also have multiple restrooms and a snack bar. What condition they are in may be another matter. Provided the previously mentioned plumbing and fixtures are all still in place, the snack bar(s) and restrooms should require nothing more than the usual paint or cleaning and standard maintenance to prepare for the public.
To make the theater operational, you must have decent, quality screens, a modern projector(s) and comfortable, clean seats. Start with those seats. If you are lucky, the old ones will remain—if so, the odds of them being in decent condition are about fifty-fifty. Repairing and refurbishing seats can be expensive, but it beats the cost of full replacements. PreferredSeating.com and USA Capitol are good places to look into repairing and refurbishing your existing seats. If you must buy new seats, first look into selling your old seating—regardless of condition—on an auction site like eBay. The recouped costs will come in handy for other expenses—like carpet and flooring. A couple of other national seating dealers include TAC Theater and SeatsandChairs.com (see Resources).
Know that a fully operational projector and quality screens will probably not be left behind by previous owners. If you are lucky enough to have screens in place, they can often be repaired or refurbished. You can check and compare prices on new and used screens as well as repairs, at National Cinema Equipment and Crowd Control Experts. Projectors and all other equipment-related questions can be answered by many of the Resources listed below.
Acme Sign Company-www.acmesigncorp.com
Scott Cavanagh has been a writer, reporter, editor and photographer for more than 20 years. His work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, business publications and websites including ThisWeek Newspapers, "The Columbus Dispatch," "The Historian," "Wired," "The Delaware Gazette," and "The Columbus Messenger." Cavanagh was the co-creator and editor of Wired.net and is the editor and publisher of BarkBackNews.com.