It was a tragedy, John Bloemeke says, that North Platte’s AMC movie theater multiplex didn’t reopen last year after COVID-19’s initial shock.
But he thought even then that local moviegoers would support an affordable but high-quality experience, Golden Ticket Cinemas’ founder and leader said Monday inside his chain’s soon-to-be 13th location in Platte River Mall.
“We were very interested in this market” beginning not long after Golden Ticket was born five years ago, said Bloemeke, who also operates multiplexes at Scottsbluff’s Monument Mall and Kearney’s Hilltop Mall.
All three were run for many years by Carmike Cinemas, for which Bloemeke worked 23 years and was a four-state regional manager when AMC bought that chain in 2016.
He “always felt there was a disconnect in the small to medium-sized markets” with the movie industry’s emphasis on large markets and multiplexes, said Bloemeke, who lives in Durham, North Carolina.
In those markets, “there’s a lot of theaters across the country where there are still a lot of loyal moviegoers,” he said. “There’s a history of these theaters still being profitable. But they’re getting tired and rundown.”
Renovations to the former Carmike-AMC multiplex began last week and should be done in time to end its 18-month shutdown and open in September as Golden Ticket Cinemas Platte River 6, he said.
Bloemeke’s chain will be Rev Development LLC’s first new major tenant since partners Mike Works and Justin Hernandez bought the 49-year-old mall last November.
Demolition also began last week in the mall’s main parking lot where a four-story apartment-commercial building will rise. Ten other new outbuildings are envisioned while the main mall is transformed into an outward-facing strip mall.
Carmike opened the movie multiplex in 2005 in the southeast mall space long occupied by Skaggs Drug Center and then Osco Drug. It replaced Mann Theatres 3, which had operated on the mall’s southwest edge since the 1970s.
AMC had done some upgrades when it rebranded the North Platte multiplex.
“Of the 13 buildings we’ve taken over, this one’s in the best condition of all of them,” Bloemeke said.
That will allow Golden Ticket to focus on upgrading the six auditoriums’ sound and projection systems, adding luxury recliners to their seating mix “and doing a few neat things with all our food offerings,” he said.
When the multiplex reopens, concession-stand visitors will find more menu options, he said. Beer and wine also will be offered once a liquor license is secured.
At the same time, he added, Golden Ticket will offer $5 tickets and discounted concessions on Tuesdays in addition to regular matinee pricing and many other promotions.
“We are committed to not increasing prices,” Bloemeke said.
Patrons who bought refillable AMC popcorn tubs in 2020 can fill them for $4.25 for the rest of 2021, he added.
Bloemeke, who started with Carmike at age 16 in 1993, was in charge of more than 30 theaters in North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia when AMC took it over.
After starting Golden Ticket, he sneaked out to North Platte four years ago to check out the mall’s multiplex. He approached the mall’s previous owners about taking it over, but nothing came of it, he said.
Golden Ticket was just getting started running Kearney’s Hilltop Mall multiplex around the time financially troubled AMC said in July 2020 it wouldn’t reopen the North Platte theaters it closed when COVID-19 arrived locally in March.
The North Platte Community Playhouse only recently resumed showing previously released movies once a weekend in the downtown Canteen District’s historic 1929 Fox Theatre. Proceeds support the nonprofit playhouse.
When a news story about Golden Ticket’s Kearney operation began circulating, Bloemeke said, “we were blasted with about 200 unique emails asking us to consider coming to North Platte. We’ve never had that before.”
Bridgette Thompson, the mall’s property operations manager under Rev, said she’s experienced local moviegoers’ hunger in the few months she’s been on the job.
“We’ve had so many people asking, ‘When is the theater coming back?’” she said.
Though direct-to-streaming movie releases have grown exponentially during the pandemic, Bloemeke believes predictions of the movie-theater industry’s demise are greatly overblown.
“The movie industry was (declared) dead when VHS tapes came out” in the 1980s, he said. “It was dead when DVDs and Blockbuster came around. It was dead when cable came around.”
People will turn out for movies in markets North Platte’s size if Golden Ticket gives them “an experience equivalent to the cost,” Bloemeke added. “It’s worked out thus far.”
Besides North Platte, Scottsbluff and Kearney, Golden Ticket has theaters in Rapid City and Aberdeen, South Dakota; Butte, Montana; Willmar, Minnesota; Lenoir and Washington, both in North Carolina; Harrison, Arkansas; DuBois, Pennsylvania; Meridian, Mississippi; and Middlesboro, Kentucky.
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