Downtown Chattanooga's Bijou theater will give way Friday to the Majestic 12 when the newer, bigger moviehouse opens next door.
"We have finally delivered on what downtown has been asking for," said Carmike Cinemas' Dale Hurst in the lobby of the theater that will feature stadium seating unlike the Bijou.
Wednesday, landscapers put down grass outside the theater at Third and Broad streets while workers inside placed other finishing touches on the $12 million project that also includes tracts available for commercial use.
Kim White, chief executive of developer RiverCity Co., said the theater is expected to more than double the number of moviegoers attracted to the central city.
She said estimates are that between 375,000 to 400,000 people annually will see a movie in the new theater. That would be up from 165,000 in the Bijou, which Carmike is closing.
"That's an $11 million-plus impact to that area and to restaurants," she said.
When the Bijou opened in late 1996, it was the first general-interest moviehouse built downtown in almost 50 years. It became a catalyst for eateries in the area, Mrs. White said.
"They know they've lost market share because the theater has gotten older," she said.
Adam Castleberry, a manager at Cheeburger Cheeburger on Market Street, said he expects the restaurant will get its share of new movie patrons.
"We see a lot of it," he said.
Downtown redevelopers aren't giving up on the space vacated by the Bijou and are working on "some pretty exciting concepts that could occur down there," Mrs. White said.
"Our goal is to animate the block," she said.
RiverCity officials talked to some big box retailers, but the slow economy might have been blessing in disguise, the RiverCity official said.
"It made us think about what makes Chattanooga unique, and we can utilize that space for something that's uniquely Chattanooga," she said.
Plans are to begin demolition of the space early next year, Mrs. White said. She said the exterior neon will stay but the Bijou sign likely will come down.
Meanwhile, the Majestic shows its first movies today to people who will fill its 2,280 seats for a preview to benefit six nonprofit groups in the city.
"We should have one heck of a party Thursday night," Mrs. White said.
The new theater will feature a VIP room dubbed the Ovation Club, Mr. Hurst said.
For people at least 21 years old, the club will feature one of the 12 screens and hold 56 moviegoers who can buy beer, wine and hors d'oeuvres. Along with the ticket price, there will be a small added charge, Mr. Hurst said.
The site of the new 70,000-square-foot theater, with five screens more than the Bijou, for many years was that of the Haney Building.
The Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority included the Bijou in plans when it built a 650-space parking deck at Third and Broad.
RiverCity is overseeing redevelopment of the site.
The Majestic 12 will open for regular business between noon and 12:30 p.m. Friday after a ribbon-cutting event.