Ever since Fairchild Cinemas posted a “Coming Soon” sign last year in a vacant field across the street from the Kennewick Walmart, moviegoers in the south Kennewick area have been anticipating the first shovel turn of dirt.
That time could happen by month’s end.
“Plans have just gone to the engineers,” said Mamie Gale, general manager of Fairchild Cinemas. “We’re going to break ground at the end of February. The plan is to build it from March through December, just like we did at Queensgate. It’ll be ready for customers for the holidays.”
As the multimillion dollar Kennewick construction project ramps up, remodeling work at the Pasco theater will be nearing completion.
Gale said the company is in the middle of remodeling Pasco’s 12-screen theater.
Fairchild applied for a $169,200 building permit to remodel the lobby in January, according to public building records.
“Because of the age of the Pasco theater and the success that we have had with moviegoers, we felt that the time was right to give Pasco a facelift. The lobby will look similar to the lobby of our Richland theater,” Gale said.
The Pasco theater opened in May 2007.
“Normally when a theater gets to be 10 years old, there needs to be some remodeling,” Gale said. “And usually it could have been done after eight years.”
The improvements won’t include the popular high-end reclining chairs and opportunity to buy alcohol that moviegoers enjoy at the Queensgate theater, which opened in 2015, just in time for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
“We cannot change the chairs platform,” Gale said. “We need 72 inches (deep) for a row, and in Pasco we have just 48 inches.”
The Pasco cinemas are considered the company’s bargain theater.
“We see mom and dad go on dates at Queensgate, and families come here because it’s cheaper,” Gale said. “A lot of people who come (to Pasco) are families. The tickets are cheaper here than at Queensgate.”
Adult ticket prices for movies after 6 p.m. at Queensgate are $13.50, but in Pasco, those same tickets cost $11.25.
Fairchild also offers budget Tuesdays at the Pasco theater only, where all movie tickets are $5.50 that day.
Fairchild is taking some of the features that work at Queensgate and duplicating them in Pasco, like for concessions.
“It’ll have belly-up concessions, just like we have at Queensgate,” Gale said. “And self-service soda, like Queensgate.”
That will help alleviate most of the problems with longer lines as the movie previews begin, Gale said.
Also planned is new flooring in the theaters, Gale said. “We’ll put new carpeting in the lobby and hallways. We’ll be painting the interior. We’re adding new tile around the snack bar, and getting rid of the café,” she said.
The snack bar project has been done in phases, with half being shut down and remodeled, then reopened while the other half is shut down and remodeled.
“There will be no shutting down any auditorium for a lengthy period of time,” Gale said. “Maybe it’ll take three to five days in the middle of the week for something to be done in an auditorium. But all theaters will be open for the weekend, when most customers come to the theaters.”
The Pasco remodel project began Jan. 16, and Gale said the company’s seven-week timeline has the project scheduled to be completed by the end of February.
The work is already costing more than expected. “We set a budget here for Pasco and have gone over it,” Gale said.
As for the Kennewick construction project, Gale said the original plans called for 12 screens but have been scaled back.
The popularity of the Dolby Atmos theaters that Fairchild uses — which call for larger screens — convinced company officials to build a few more of those in Kennewick and drop the number of screens to 10.
The actual square footage of the building — about 43,000 square feet — will be about the same size as Queensgate.
An additional 10 feet in depth will be added to each auditorium. “This allows us to give each seat platform an extra 3 inches and an additional 7 feet between the front row of seats and the screens. Queensgate has 1,100 seats. Kennewick will have 1,000,” Gale said.
The theater will be built on leased land, making the cost of the theater more than $6 million, Gale said. The new theater will be at 2909 S. Quillan St., between Quillan and South Olson streets.
Like Queensgate, the Kennewick theater also will offer reserved seating, in which customers can choose their seats online before arriving; luxury leather reclining seats; and entrée meals and locally sourced beer and wine.
Fairchild Cinemas was started by Jeff Fairchild. He has an eight-screen Fairchild Cinemas Theater in Moses Lake in addition to the 24 screens in Pasco and Richland.
Gale said the company has about 120 employees between the three locations. The new Kennewick theater will add another 40 employees, she said, in addition to giving the company 42 screens in four locations – including 34 in the Tri-Cities.
That’s likely enough in the Tri-Cities for Fairchild.
“I think Kennewick will be it,” Gale said. “You can only grow so many screens in the area.”
Add 12 screens at the Kennewick AMC Theaters and another eight screens at Regal Cinemas at Columbia Center and that’s a total of 44 Tri-City movie screens that will grow to 54 when the Kennewick theater opens.