One of the State College area’s two multiplex movie theaters is ready to reopen for the first time in three months.
UEC College 9, 3031 Carnegie Drive, will be open for limited hours starting Friday, regional manager Anthony Smith said.
For the time being, the theater will be open Fridays through Sundays and on Tuesdays. Show times will begin at 4 p.m. on Fridays, noon on Saturdays and Sundays and around 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. The last screenings each day will begin no later than 8 p.m. Ticket prices on Tuesdays are reduced to $5.50.
All safety measures that were previously in place will remain, such as mandatory masking, 6-foot distancing and plexiglass between employees and customers. Smith added that the theater has adopted enhanced, frequent cleaning procedures using new disinfectant chemicals and has upgraded the filters in its HVAC system.
The theater will open with the currently allowed 50% maximum capacity. When Pennsylvania’s relaxed restrictions go into effect next weekend, it will be at 75% maximum capacity.
“We will open it up to 75% but by no means do I think we’ll get even close to filling a theater to 75%,” he said. “Any place is going to open up to what they could, obviously, so we’re going to open up to what we’re allowed to. That being said we still have all the measures. Everything that was in place before is going to continue.”
Smith said the other local UEC theater, UEC 12 at 125 Premiere Drive, will open sometime this spring, possibly in April, but a date has not yet been set.
Both theaters closed last March at the beginning of the pandemic and reopened in August. But they temporarily shut down again in December when Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration ordered indoor entertainment facilities to close for three weeks as part of a series of temporary COVID-19 mitigation measures.
One of the main reasons that the theaters remained closed after those restrictions were lifted was that studios had delayed many releases and there wasn’t much selection.
“There just hasn’t been a whole lot to play,” Smith said.
That’s starting to change though. This weekend, College 9 will have showings of “Chaos Walking,” “Nobody,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “The Marksman,” and “Tom & Jerry.”
Smith said that at other UEC locations that have been open “Tom & Jerry” and “Raya and the Last Dragon,” have both performed well.
“I do expect theater-going to come back,” Smith said. “We’ve seen it in some of our other states.”
Next weekend will see the release of “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which is expected to be one of the biggest movies of the spring. Now theater operators also are looking to later in the spring and summer and the release of more major films.
“By no means are we done with COVID, but we’re getting there,” Smith said. “We’re finally getting to the vaccinations and stuff and now the studios are finally releasing movies.”
College 9 is opening first out of the two theaters partly because it underwent a remodeling prior to the pandemic, including new seating in each of the auditoriums and recliner seating in the four largest. A similar remodel is planned for UEC 12, but was delayed by the pandemic.
“We remodeled the College 9 right before the pandemic last year and nobody’s really gotten to see that,” Smith said. “You’d like to get some butts in those seats, however many it is, just having people be able to see what we have there.”
Another reason just one of the theaters is opening at first, Smith said, is that they are still waiting to receive funds designated for theaters as part of the federal COVID-19 relief package passed in December. Applications for those funds are just opening on April 8.
“That’s going to give us some relief money to help us out as we lost 91 percent of our business from last year,” Smith said. “It’s been pretty devastating. Thankfully we’ve been able to hang in there.”
“As soon as we apply for that and know what we’re getting we will be opening [both of] our theaters back up and going back to full schedules,” Smith said, noting .
He added that UEC 12 could open sooner if College 9 sees a swift return of patrons.
“We don’t want to jump too far ahead,” Smith said. “If we open up and business does pick back up we may end up opening it earlier. We just want to see what we can do. We want to be extra cautious and safe.”
As the theaters reopen on a more regular basis, they’ll also need to hire more staff.
“Obviously it’s devastated our employees,” Smith said. “We definitely will be hiring when we reopen. Currently it’s pretty much just managers that are left. I’ve had a few loyal people that have been stuck without work for a good while and have been on unemployment that we do hope to bring back.”