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Fort Lauderdale Gateway Theatre: New operator looks at recliners

Just over a year after Fort Lauderdale’s Classic Gateway Theater reopened and began renovations, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival will pull out of the project at the end of the month.

A new operator, Tamarac-based Paradigm Cinemas, will take over the 71-year-old theater in August with plans to introduce a feature that will be music to many Gateway fans by the end of the year. : Recliners.

FLIFF President and CEO Gregory von Hausch said the non-profit arts organization’s board made its decision by looking at attendance figures, still slow to recover from the pandemic. , and his plans for an expensive renovation of the catwalk lobby that waits in the wings .

Expenses associated with the Gateway project threatened to affect the nonprofit’s crown jewel, the annual film festival, which returns Nov. 4, von Hausch said.

“We didn’t want to compromise that at the expense of someone else’s infrastructure. The board was pragmatic, and I understand them, absolutely,” he said.

FLIFF had signed a five-year lease on the building at Sunrise Boulevard and Federal Highway and reopened it over Memorial Day weekend 2021, after the historic theater was closed for more than a year at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent attempts to renegotiate the lease with building owners Franzblau Trust Holdings have failed, von Hausch said.

Operation of the four-screen, 690-seat theater will be assumed by Paradigm Cinemas following FLIFF’s final screenings on August 4, when the theater will temporarily close for cleaning, painting and other work, and reopen a few weeks later.

Longtime resident of South Florida Armand Daiguillon opened Paradigm Cinemas in 2019 in the former home of art house theater The Last Picture Show. Programming similar to that of Gateway and, for a time, in shared ownership with the Last Picture Show, prompted residents of the Tamarac area to nickname the theater “the Gateway of the West”.

Daiguillon plans to introduce an expanded menu at The Gateway, similar to that offered at Paradigm, where burgers, sandwiches, pasta dishes and milkshakes are served. The additional level of food prep requires different state and city licenses, which will dictate when it can open.

“As fast as the bureaucracy moves, that’s when we’ll open,” said Daiguillon, who grew up in Hollywood and started in the industry in 1992 as a 17-year-old concessionaire at an AMC theater. before becoming general manager. .

The Gateway currently has a liquor license, but Daiguillon plans to serve only beer and wine.

The theater’s interior will be repainted and given a “beautiful cosmetic facelift” before reopening, Daiguillon said. Recliners will likely be added one screening room at a time when they arrive, he said, citing supply chain issues that have made even bags of popcorn an overpriced commodity.

Paradigm Cinemas primarily shows first-run films, with the occasional independent and foreign title. Daiguillon said the right balance will be critical to the gateway’s success.

“We’re always going to show art products and things of that nature. There’s a large audience for that at the Gateway. However, and there’s a big exclamation point here, there are reasons why [FLIFF] couldn’t do as well as they would like,” he said.

One of the critical effects of COVID-19 in the movie industry has been changing the viewing habits of senior citizens, who make up a large part of independent film audiences, he said.

“They all discovered streaming, because they had nothing to do. They brought in their kids and grandkids and hooked them up to Netflix and it changed their lives,” he said, noting that many independent films have first releases on streaming services.

“That’s why you can’t just have an art house these days. You have to show other things,” Daiguillon said.

When FLIFF undertook the footbridge renovation in 2021, it was a project where pragmatism may have been overshadowed by passion for its historic building. Located on a busy thoroughfare between the beach and downtown – a “gateway” to both – the theater is both a local landmark and a cultural touchstone.

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The catwalk secured its place in local history about a decade after it opened, making national news with the 1960 red carpet world premiere of “Where the Boys Are,” the film filmed in Fort Lauderdale Spring Break starring George Hamilton, Dolores Hart, Paula Prentiss, Yvette Mimieux and pop star Connie Francis.

Despite its abrupt end, FLIFF’s attempt to restore the walkway to its former glory was necessary, von Hausch said.

“It’s Fort Lauderdale’s preeminent movie theater, and shutting it down in such an important and iconic place in the city was kind of like, ‘My God, Fort Lauderdale, where are you? Are we going to be in front of our televisions from now?” von Hausch said. “That was our mission, to get it reopened. And we did it. I don’t think anyone else would consider going there now, if we had not taken the steps we have taken to reopen.

FLIFF priced the walkway renovation at $500,000 and raised approximately $75,000 from donors.

Big-budget projects completed included restoring the theater’s iconic neon marquee for $15,000 and repairing the air conditioning for about $6,500, von Hausch said. When FLIFF took over, two of the theaters were unable to show films due to technology issues, which were resolved.

“I kind of have my tail between my legs, because I’ve been to see so many people,” von Hausch said. “But I’ve contacted almost every donor directly and told them what it’s all about…and they all understand and they all support us.”

Staff writer Ben Crandell can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Eng: @BenCrandell and TW: @BenCrandell.

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