Recliners, stadium seating set for theater

Published 1:25 am Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mack Clark said the downstairs theaters will have about 50 seats each, and will feature electric recliners.

Mack Clark said the downstairs theaters will have about 50 seats each, and will feature electric recliners.

Plans to renovate the theater in Andalusia would not have been possible without the generosity of the O’Neal family, Mayor Earl Johnson said.

The family, who has owned the theater building on the square for decades, donated it to the city. In turn, the city will completely remodel it, and has a long-term lease in effect with Clarke Theatres.

“For almost 100 years, there’s been a movie theater in downtown Andalusia,” Johnson said. “We have heard a lot of talk about building a theater somewhere else, or getting out on the bypass and building a theater. But just close your eyes for moment and imagine if the theater went dark.

“It would change our community forever,” he said.

The downtown redevelopment plan unveiled Tuesday includes a plan to renovate the facility, including new restrooms and concession areas, and new, stadium-style seating, and an updated façade.

The mayor said he believes keeping the theater downtown will help keep the downtown area vital.

Lester O’Neal, who spoke for the family at Tuesday’s downtown redevelopment announcement, said he was born in 1946.

“As long as I can remember, on Sunday afternoons, after we’d been to church and had lunch, Daddy would load us up to go to the movies.

“OF course, when we got bigger, they would turn us loose to go to the matinee on Saturday afternoons, and that was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was important to me not just because my family owned it, but because it was a place to go and something to do.”

Johnson said he could not stress enough the importance of the O’Neals’ role in the project.

“The O’Neals are a great example of a family who has done well here in the city and in the county, giving back to the community to make it better,” Johnson said.

Mack Clark of Clark Theatres said he is really proud of the work the architects have done in designing the theater renovations. There is only one other theater project like this one in the state, in Huntsville, he said, adding that the downstairs theaters, which will have about 50 seats each, will have electric recliners.

His company is proud to be a part of the project, he said, adding that the downtown restaurant also announced on Tuesday makes the project even sweeter.

“Going out to eat and going to a movie go hand in hand,” Clark said.

“You have a mayor who has a vision and an ability to lead,” Clark said. “We look forward to be part of the business community for many years in the future.”

Bids for renovations will be let as soon as the architects, RLS Design Group of Birmingham, complete the drawings. Johnson said, adding he hopes the projects will be done by late spring.