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Chapel Hill Theater to Be Expanded, Improved

Developers are planning 10 screens at the Plaza Theatre, as well as digital sound and high-backed stadium seats.

The Plaza Theatre, which will be torn down and replaced by a new, larger structure, now offers only five screens.

Scott Baldwin, vice president of operations for Eastern Federal Theatres, the company that owns the Plaza, and company representative Bill Wilson said they are planning the expansion to keep up with competition from theaters in Durham and other surrounding areas.

"We would like to keep our customer base in Chapel Hill," said Wilson, who, like Baldwin, graduated from UNC in the mid-1970s.

Wilson cited the Carmike Wynnsong theater near South Square Mall and a theater at the new South Point Mall in Durham as examples of cinemas that were luring moviegoers out of Chapel Hill.

The two entrepreneurs hope to modernize the Plaza Theatre into a state-of-the-art facility featuring stadium seating and digital sound.

Wilson and Baldwin also plan to double the number of screens, add high-back seats and expand the concession area.

As a former Tar Heel who worked at both the Plaza and Varsity theaters as a UNC student, Baldwin said he hopes students will take advantage of the new facility rather than venturing into Durham for a night at the movies.

"It's better to keep Chapel Hill people in Chapel Hill," he said.

Richard Gurlitz, chief architect for the project, said he estimates the project will be completed sometime between late 2003 and early 2004.

But Baldwin said the planning and construction process will be lengthy because of the number of town departments that must approve the project.

"Chapel Hill has an excellent system for getting things done," Baldwin said. "We've just got to be patient."

Gurlitz said he submitted blueprints to the Chapel Hill Planning Department in mid-December, marking the beginning of a 12-month review process by various town departments such as the planning board, the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Parks and Recreation Department.

No date has yet been determined for when construction might begin.

The blueprints call for increased landscaping, improved parking lots, easier pedestrian access and linkage to the local bus route.

Gurlitz also said both Wilson and Baldwin have high hopes for the theater project because it will be easily accessible for Chapel Hill residents.

"They're looking to make this a special place," he said. "It's not just another project."

Although there have been no estimates yet of how much the project will cost, both Wilson and Baldwin said price will not be a deterrent.

"We need to make sure our facility meets or exceeds our competition," Wilson said.

Baldwin added that he is excited about the new theater and said he believes it will vastly improve the moviegoing experience for area residents.

"It will certainly help the students and the public to have a state-of-the-art movie theater in Chapel Hill."

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