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Movie exodus continues from retail core.

COUNT TWO FEWER movie screens downtown; the 12-year-old City Centre Cinemas inauspiciously closed on February 15. Its final bookings? Sugar and Spice and What Women Want. Evidently bank-robbing cheerleaders and a mind-reading Mel Gibson weren't enough to keep the theater profitable. Since the advent of the Meridian's 16 screens in '96 and Pacific Place's 11 in '98, the beleaguered CCC had been reduced to long engagements of flicks like The Legend of Drunken Master—which we loved, by the way—playing to predominantly empty seats. Now it's gone the way of the Newmark.

In truth, however, the broader economic downturn of the movie exhibition business is equally to blame. CCC's parent, Loews Cineplex Entertainment, recently entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy—joining almost every other major exhibitor in a sea of red ink caused by overbuilding, overborrowing, and excess screen capacity. (Among them, too, is the parent of our Landmark-Seven Gables chain, still courting a buyer in Delaware bankruptcy court.)

So do we really need those two extra downtown screens? Surprisingly, they're required, explains Gary Carpenter, executive vice president of Bentall US (the US Bank Center's developer). "The City of Seattle, under our master use permit, requires those theaters to be there," he says, since the building's 1989 construction razed two old theaters on its block. Now, with Pacific Place and the Meridian nearby, he asks, "Will that be an issue that the city will enforce? My speculation is I doubt it."

In other words, if a more profitable nontheater tenant wants to sign a lease, don't expect the, ahem, business-friendly Schell administration to stand in the way. Moreover, Carpenter adds, Loews is likely eager to end its costly lease under Chapter 11 law—meaning a possible new use could be announced within a month.

"Those are old-style, large-screen theaters," he says of the existing facility. "Because the theaters have not been that well-attended in that location, they have not been as big an economic draw to that complex as they otherwise might be." Still, one movie exhibitor has approached Bentall about the space. "If we can get a theater operation back, I think that would be great," Carpenter avows, leaving his skepticism unspoken.

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