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Theater complex planned south of Walmart

Rindi White

WASILLA -- By next Christmas, movie-lovers might have a new place to watch the annual sappy holiday comedy.

A 12-plex theater is expected to open south of Walmart next fall or winter, though theater owner John Schweiger is waiting for financing to be approved before breaking out the celebratory popcorn.

"We have local contractors filing their bids now to build the building. I cannot secure financing until I know how much the building is going to cost to build," he said. "There's a possibility it could not happen yet."

Schweiger owns Coming Attractions Theatres Inc., based in Ashland, Ore. He said he's been traveling between Alaska and Oregon for two years, working on the project.

He said Wasilla -- and the Valley market -- is appealing because it's the right-sized community and a fast-growing area. That, and "Oregon's full," he said.

Schweiger said he's invested heavily in architecture and engineering designs for the project and has traveled to Wasilla several times to walk the property, which his company purchased this summer, and work out details. He hopes the deal goes through.

Wasilla has one theater, Mat-Su Cinemas, a three-screen cinema. Owner Sandy Morgan said her family has run the theater for 21 years and, if Schweiger opens, it might be time for her to retire.

"We had talked about expanding it and doing something more," Morgan said. "But we're tired."

Morgan said a number of people are interested in buying the Mat-Su Cinemas property, which is beside Parks Highway near Evangelo's Restaurant and in a prime commercial development spot.

Other theater plans have come and gone in Wasilla recently, including a plan by Anchorage firm Neeser Construction Inc. to build a 12-plex on about 35 acres at the intersection of Knik-Goose Bay Road and Palmer-Wasilla Highway Extension that fizzled in 2007.

The Coming Attractions multiplex would be in a 40,000-square-foot building, Schweiger said, on seven acres near Walmart.

It would have more than 1,700 seats and parking for more than 400 cars.

Instead of shipping movies up each week, Schweiger said, the Alaska theater would be 100 percent digital, with movies coming in online. And there's more.

"We'll have 3D -- we're into 3D in a big way in our other theaters," he said.

Its auditoriums in the Lower 48 are available for rent for business meetings or conferences, and the company has been experimenting in hosting non-movie events, such as a live broadcast of a Hannah Montana concert in 2008.

Schweiger said he would continue those things here.

Movie-goers should look forward to new choices in the concessions department, Schweiger said, though he wouldn't divulge what was on the menu.

Some secrets have to be held back for the grand opening, he said.

Alaska would be a major expansion for Schweiger's company, which operates 19 theaters in small- to medium-sized communities in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

His company prides itself on supporting the communities in which it operates. Schweiger said he's already started in Wasilla.

He's a Wasilla Chamber of Commerce member and this year was the sole sponsor of the Mat-Su Silver Salmon Derby, a chamber fundraiser that donates money to the American Cancer Society to increase breast cancer awareness.

As for challenges of setting up shop in a state with all new suppliers and contacts, he said: "A problem is only an opportunity to do it better."

Find Rindi White online at adn.com/contact/rwhite or call 352-6709.


By RINDI WHITE
rwhite@adn.com