By Bob Seidenberg
AMC Theatres, the country’s largest movie theater chain, has signed a long-term lease to return moviegoing to downtown Evanston, the developer of the property said Feb. 10.
Mitch Goltz, co-owner of GW Properties, the developer, said AMC indicated it will reopen the 12 screens formerly operated by Cinemark as Century Theatre as early as this spring. The theaters have been closed for nearly two years.
He called AMC’s signing “an important step” forward in efforts to reactivate the 200,000-square-foot Church Street Plaza, which GW bought last November.
Other tenants too
“AMC is the biggest name in the business and offers the most amenities,” he said.
Trampoline park, gaming arena and more
Goltz said his firm has also reached agreement with another company, Sky Zone, to operate one of its flagship trampoline and active entertainment parks in what used to be the south side of the theater, where Century had another six screens for showing independent or art-themed movies.
That portion of the theater space will be combined with the second floor of the former Urban Outfitters space.
Sky Zone, whose closest center is in Vernon Hills in another GW Properties development, is a “best-in-its-class operator, who will bring a whole new type of recreation and entertainment to a younger demographic in Evanston,” Goltz said.
Also with younger users in mind, GW Properties has signed a deal with Belong Gaming, a company based in London that operates e-gaming arenas, Goltz said. “That [e-gaming] is one of the strongest clubs at Northwestern,” he said. Belong Gaming would occupy the former Buffalo Wild Wings site at 1714 Maple Ave.
Goltz said the popularity of online video games among Northwestern University students was one of the factors in pursuing the business. Belong Gaming “should be a great draw for people that will come to the site that otherwise may not,” he said.
Other moves in the works, Goltz said, include relocating CycleBar into space across Church Street next to Noodles & Company at 940 Church St., and bringing Big Wig Tacos, a fast-casual taco concept, to take part of the former American Apparel space at 950 Church St.
Altogether, on the development, Goltz said, “We’ve been very encouraged to date, and, while we’re not surprised, we are very happy with the amount of activity we’ve had here.
Quite a turnaround
The site had kind of fallen into somewhat of a bad state of occupancy, and it was partially due to COVID, partially due to tenants’ needs changing in the market,” he said.
“But you know, if there’s something that this project can show, it is resilience; and great real estate will continue to bring great tenants and opportunities. We’re looking to be the steward of just really making the most of this project and making it something that Evanston and its constituents can be proud of for many, many years to come.”
Some had counted out the movies returning after Century 12/Cinemark closed shortly after the start of the pandemic in 2020, ending a more than 20-year run at the site.
Paul Zalmezak, the city’s Economic Development manager, was among those predicting the city would land another operator for the space.
Goltz struck a confident tone last fall, announcing his firm’s plans for Church Street Plaza, including reviving the theater.
“Obviously, COVID took its toll on everybody, every market, but before COVID, this was one of the top theaters in the entire state of Illinois,” he said Feb. 10.
“People want to get back to the theater – people have already come back to the theaters,” he said, reiterating that AMC “is the biggest name in the business and offers the most amenities and offerings.
“So they saw this as a great opportunity to pick up some market share in what was a great, great site and a very dynamic market in Chicago.”