Without so much as Scotch-taping a “Thanks for 20 Years!” note to the front door, Texas-based multiplex chain Cinemark has closed its downtown Evanston location, the Cinemark 18 at Church Street and Maple Avenue, Evanston city officials said today.
This leaves downtown Evanston without a movie theater. Evanston city officials said they’re committed to finding a new tenant.
City economic development manager Paul Zalmezak confirmed the news, first reported by Evanston RoundTable.
“We know it’s an excellent location for a theater,” Zalmezak said Tuesday. “As long as the owners (Stockbridge Capital Group, a San Francisco-headquartered private-equity real-estate firm) is interested in continuing to operate it as a theater, we’ll certainly push for that.”
Cinemark’s ongoing efforts to exercise a lease exit clause predate the onset of the pandemic a year ago, according to Zalmezak. “COVID expedited it, but it started a lot earlier than COVID,” he said.
Cinemark officials did not return emails Tuesday. In recent days, Cinemark has permanently closed multiplexes in various locations, including Laredo, Texas, and Norfolk, Virginia. The Evanston location is merely the latest.
Other Illinois Cinemark theaters remain open, on varying schedules. Some, including Cinemark Melrose Park, operate Fridays through Sundays only.
To the chagrin of many steady customers, in recent years Evanston’s Cinemark 18 suffered from a lack of property reinvestment and customer-focused upgrades, such as recliner seats and other now-standard amenities.
“You have to ask: Why wasn’t this location upgraded?” Zalmezak said. “When we talked to Cinemark about it, all we got was a lot of hedging and grumbling about the landlord not participating in more of the costs.”
The City of Evanston will work with Annie Coakley, executive director of downtownevanston.org, a marketing and management firm, on the hunt for a replacement tenant. Zalmezak estimated “it’ll probably be a year to 18 months at the earliest” to secure a new movie theater operator, renovate the space and reopen.
“With COVID,” he added, “nobody’s going to make quick decisions.”
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.
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