AMC Loews closing in Harvard in July; future of site unknown
It’s not yet clear what the AMC Loews Harvard Square 5 will be after it closes July 8.
The 10 Church St. multiplex is for sale by the AMC Theatres chain, which is being bought by Beijing-based Dalian Wanda Group for $2.6 billion.
The sale is expected to go through in September, by which time the Harvard Square site will have either been dark for two months or rebranded by another cinema chain — or, as a commenter on the Harvard Crimson site said, “Given that it’s Harvard Square, the odds are 50/50 that it’ll turn into a bank branch or cell phone store. But there’s always a chance of the wildcard ‘another CVS’ option, too.”
The square will still have movie showings even if that happens: The nonprofit Brattle is a block away at 40 Brattle St., which specializes in repertory format showings of classic, cutting-edge, foreign and art- house films, and the Harvard Film Archives, 24 Quincy St., collects and screens fine foreign, art, historical and other films. There are also movies offered free to the public by the MIT Lecture Series Committee.
The Crimson broke the news of the sale Wednesday, with much of its coverage and comments focusing on the end of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” phenomena; the cult classic has been showing there regularly since 1984.
While some $500 million is to be spent investing in and upgrading its theaters, according to The Hollywood Reporter, in Cambridge a sale was preferred. It’s not known if AMC is aiming first to sell it as a cinema, or simply as real estate.
“We don’t typically give out that information,” said Ryan Noonan, spokesman for the chain, when asked if the site was being shopped to other cinema owners. He was also unable to give a timeline for the sale, beyond the closing next month.
“We continually strive to upgrade the quality of our theater circuit by adding new screens and by disposing of older screens through closures and sales. We do, however, look at our theaters on an individual basis. We have decided to sell the AMC Harvard Square 5,” the company said in a press release.
At least one commercial real estate agent in the area agrees residents shouldn’t assume the cinema will stay a cinema. “I agree there’s some value in the branding, that people already know they can go there to see a movie, but if you target the buyer you eliminate other potential buyers who might have the highest and best use for the property,” said Shane Marrion, of Benoit Real Estate in Davis Square. “It’s a unique property, a unique situation and a great location. You don’t really know who your audience is if you don’t give it a chance.” If he were in AMC’s position, he would hold it off the market for a month to ensure more potential buyers knew of the opportunity, Marrion said.
AMC says it has interests in 346 theaters with 5,034 screens in 32 states and the District of Columbia, as well as in three countries outside the United States. At an average of 14.5 screens per theatre, AMC has the highest screen-per-theater count among the major U.S. and Canadian exhibitors ─ well above the 2011 calendar year industry average of 6.8 — and operates 22 of the 50 highest grossing theaters in the United States, including six of the top 10. The Wanda Group has 86 locations and 730 screens in China.
That pride suggests a preference for theaters with more than five screens; the chain’s next nearest theater is in Boston, which has 19 screens.
AMC is based in Kansas City, Mo., where it was founded in 1920. The Cambridge Chronicle looked at city records to show that AMC bought 10 Church St. in November 1986. The assessed value of the property is $7.1 million.