13-screen luxury movie theater slated for Chapel Hill's University Mall

mschultz@newsobserver.comNovember 12, 2013 

— A South American theater company plans to build a $7 million, 13-screen complex with its own restaurant in the current Dillard’s space in University Mall.

Town officials hope Tuesday’s announcement by Silverspot Cinema will mark a turning point for the struggling mall, which has sought to reinvent itself as residents headed out of town for shopping and entertainment.

With hand-stitched leather seats, the latest projection technology and live broadcasts of opera, ballet and theatrical performances, Silverspot is part of a luxury theater trend that aims to redefine the movies for those willing to pay the company’s current $16 adult ticket price ($11.50 matinee).

“Silverspot is about creating a no-hassle movie-going experience, a place that allows you to disconnect and recharge, a place for creative inspiration,” said Gonzalo Ulivi, manager of Silverspot Cinema. “The goal is not just to open a movie theater, but to create an environment that is unique, lush and plush, and feels more intimate and exclusive.”

Silverspot has an 11-screen theater in mall owner Madison Marquette’s Naples, Fla., Mercato property. The chance to open a theater in Chapel Hill came when Dillard’s decided not to renew its lease, according to Peter de Leon, the mall’s general manager.

“They are very much looking at the high-end customer, the highly sophisticated shopper,” de Leon said.

He told the story he heard on a business trip of a man who stopped by the Silverspot Cinema one morning and was told he could buy tickets for any movie except for those in two theaters that were holding a champagne brunch for a showing of the Russian opera.

“That embodied the type of demographics they’re aiming for,” de Leon said. “The reaction you get when you walk in (is) it’s not your AMC. ... As soon as you walk in the door, you know you’re going to have a great experience.”

Movie ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada have stalled, and admissions have declined in recent years, according to the National Association of Theater Owners.

But Silverspot sees an opportunity in Chapel Hill, said Dwight Bassett, the town’s economic development officer.

He has not researched the company but thinks it will offer a different experience from Chapel Hill’s other theaters and attract more first-run films to better compete with The Streets at Southpoint in Durham.

The redevelopment of the Dillard’s location for the theater will also open more outward-facing retail spaces at the mall, Bassett said.

Aaron Nelson, president and CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, said the theater will generate spin-off business that will further help an aging mall that has struggled.

“What it does is it brings humans to that mall,” Nelson said. “Malls of this type and size in America have not made it. This is the shot in the arm the mall needs to survive and thrive.”

Silverspot at University Mall will be the fifth domestic location for the company, a division of Cines Unidos – one of the largest theater companies in South America.

The theater will be joined at the mall by four new boutiques, a sporting goods store and a new fine dining option – all part of University Mall’s redevelopment plan.

New leases signed at the mall this year total 67,500 square feet, according to a news release.

William Travis Jewelers, Fine Feathers, Peacock Alley, TrySports and Kidzu Children’s Museum are open or slated to open soon. Plaza Azteca, a contemporary Mexican restaurant, will join the restaurant lineup in 2014, and Silverspot will follow in early 2015.

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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