SNEAK PEEK: New Grand Theatre tour shows electric recliners, curved screens
Worthington's City Council toured the eagerly-awaited New Grand Theatre Friday afternoon, scoping out its cushy reclining seats and asking questions about opening dates and staffing.
WORTHINGTON — Munching popcorn in a blue-and-black curtained auditorium during a tour of the New Grand Theatre Friday, the Worthington City Council got to try cushy reclining chairs, listen to the surround-sound and watch previews on a curved, 50-foot screen.
“If we’re not opened by the end of March, I’ll be very disappointed,” said Todd Frager, one of the three theater operators shepherding the council through the building.
He also mentioned upcoming likely-blockbuster “The Batman,” with its release date of March 4, and noted the New Grand could potentially open on a Tuesday, allowing staff a few days before the weekend rush.
“What you’ve done so far is pretty impressive,” said Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle. “Thank you for your work.”
Much work has been completed thus far, but much work is yet to be done, too. Workers are set to begin laying the carpet on Monday, which will likely take about a week.
As of Friday afternoon, the lobby appeared to be far less finished than the auditoriums, but it was still clear to the observer where things would go. A long counter with three open portions will eventually get lighting and glass, before those open spaces are stuffed with candy for sale, and it’s easy to imagine where the popcorn machine will go. To the left of the counter lies the office door, and to the right, a door to a storage room.
On the opposite side of the lobby are the bathrooms and a series of photographs from the Nobles County Historical Society, showing some of the old theaters in Worthington . There are even pictures of a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest from 1921, showing drooping mustachioed men in bowler hats and ill-fitting pants.
Between the concession stand on one side of the lobby and the history display on the other lies the hallway leading to the five auditoriums.
All five have matching wall hangings in black and royal blue; the tiny lights illuminating the aisles for movie-goers are also blue. All five have accessible areas, both for people using wheelchairs and for people needing extra space to maneuver a walker or other device. There is a monitor for the hearing impaired, too.
Three of the auditoriums are smaller, with 48 seats and a 35-foot-wide screen. Two of them are larger, with 98 seats and a curved, 50-foot screen. Those seats, however, are electric-powered recliners, with significant cushioning in the seat and back, cupholders and individual armrests.
“Boy, they’re soft seats,” Kuhle commented.
Moviegoers will be able to purchase tickets online or at the door, but all theaters will have reserved seating, meaning people can choose their seats. Limiting the number of seats in each auditorium allowed the theater to have only one exit in the smaller auditoriums rather than two.
The building's safety features include sprinklers, as well as fire extinguishers set into some of the walls. As another safety precaution, the projectors are connected to the fire suppression system, so that if a fire occurs, the movies should stop and the lights go on.
During the tour, the operators mentioned some of the snags the project has experienced, such as supply chain issues, an inspection process slowed by COVID-19 precautions and ductwork installation that turned out to be too low in front of a screen and will need to be removed. Lenses from the former theater were brought to the New Grand for the projectors there, but the old theater only had one large screen and the New Grand has two, so a second lens had to be found.
The three partner theater operators — Frager, Kevin Donovan and Dave Fetters — had movie theater popcorn, candy and pop available, and offered city council members an opportunity to get the whole movie theater experience, minus the movie, as part of the tour. They watched four previews — DC League of Super-Pets, The Batman, Minions: The Rise of Gru and The Lost City.
Afterward, Frager spoke with city leaders and answered their questions. Currently the New Grand has just one employee, and most likely 10 to 12 more workers will be hired about two weeks ahead of the opening. In February, he said, he hopes to host a mass interview event, and interview prospective employees all day.
The movie theater operators intend to apply for a license to sell beer and wine at the theater, as they do at their Sioux Falls location, where it is limited to 4 p.m. and later. Frager said they’d had no alcohol-related problems there.
Frager also said he intends to get the theater tied in to community projects, offering rentals and local screenings of locally-produced movies, if any should be made.
He praised the city of Worthington as being “great to work with,” and the city council told him how excited the public is for the theater to open.