Thursday, August 21, 2014


Join me for a behind-the-scenes VIP hard hat tour of the future ArcLight Cinemas, and new Dining Terrace, at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. The sleek, modern dining terrace is just about finished, and the cineplex will open in late October.

It's a refreshing change to be reporting on a movie theater under construction, rather than theaters being demolished in the past (or, potentially, in the future, in the case of the Regal Cinemas in downtown Bethesda).
Eric Howard of Westfield Corporation
The future Valet station is in
the background

To the left is one of several
trees that balance the
modern architecture with
an organic element

Ultimately, the new cineplex/dining terrace addition is the most prominent manifestation of Westfield's $90 million upgrade of Montgomery Mall. While White Flint Mall's owners chose to pull the plug on their successful indoor mall to gamble on an urban, "town center" concept, Westfield went in the opposite direction, bringing Montgomery Mall up to the standards of its California properties.

As Westfield representatives explained during a press conference and hard hat tour yesterday, dining and entertainment are the prime catalysts for success in a competitive market like the Washington, D.C. area. Westfield Montgomery had been a runner-up to regional giant Tysons Corner for many years, with the latter boasting more - and more upscale - dining options and a far more ambitious multiplex theater.
Westfield Montgomery Marketing
Manager Diego Gonzalez-Zuniga

Gonzalez-Zuniga described
the ArcLight/Dining Terrace
addition as "the new front
door" of the mall

It's amazing what 18 months and $90 million can do. Westfield Montgomery has pulled just about even with Tysons in dining options, with new and future tenants like The Cheesecake Factory, Lobster ME, MET Bethesda, CRAVE, and Naples 45. If you consider that the last time I was at the movies at Tysons, the theater seats were stained with holes in the cushions, I would argue that a buzzworthy replacement for Legal Sea Foods could put Westfield Montgomery ahead of Tysons by a nose.
Ted Xenohristos, founder of Cava Mezze
Restaurant Group, said the chain's new
Dining Terrace location will have
several new features, including a
wood stone oven for housemade pita,
and local craft beer and wines on tap

That potential was only made possible by the 16-screen ArcLight Cinemas and the signing of many new upscale retail tenants like Lilly Pulitzer and True Religion. Some other longstanding complaints were addressed during this period, including closing the "Starbucks gap" when Westfield finally got the coffee chain on board. It also made sure that smaller dining tenants were unique, such as Dumpling Dojo, Wicked Waffle and Aroma Espresso Bar.
Zach Sussman of CRAVE Restaurants
says CRAVE takes sushi seriously

Along with the bigger full-service restaurants coming in the months ahead, these dining options were definitely not the standard food court offerings of average malls in the past. That's one reason Westfield Montgomery's food court is now called a Dining Terrace, not a food court.
The spectacular view from the
upper level in the Dining Terrace

Sarku Japan's sushi bar is
a centerpiece in the new
dining palace

The escalator that will bring patrons
up to more dining options, and the
ArcLight Cinemas

At yesterday's press conference, representatives of Cava Grill, Lobster ME, Blaze Pizza, CRAVE and MET Bethesda offered a preview of the menus and unique aspects of their respective restaurants. In the case of Lobster ME and Blaze Pizza, there was actually food to sample (stay tuned for a separate report on Blaze Pizza).
Gretchen McCourt, Exec. VP
at ArcLight Cinemas
McCourt said ArcLight patrons
won't be bombarded with
annoying ads before movies

And, as you will see in the video, ArcLight Cinemas promises to be a major boon for film buffs, in addition to satisfying the dinner-and-a-movie crowd. I like that the chain treats movies less as a commodity and more as the art form it is, with no advertising and a black box in-theater atmosphere. And it will be the only theater in Bethesda showing films of the past, an experience that currently requires a trip over to the AFI Silver Theatre in downtown Silver Spring.
McCourt leads members of the media
on a tour of one of the 16 auditoriums
under construction in the ArcLight Cinemas

Ultimately, we are witnessing the reinvigoration of the suburban indoor mall. Rather than dying out, Westfield Montgomery remains a major retail destination in the DC area. With the new multiplex and restaurants, it is now also an entertainment and dining destination. This comes just as the momentum and population growth is shifting from urban areas back to the suburbs across the country, making it perfect timing for the rebirth of the indoor mall.
ArcLight Cinemas' lobby will feature a
small cafe/wine bar

ArcLight's signature lobby image wall,
which will have changing displays
throughout the year, was being
installed yesterday

Lobby of ArcLight Cinemas

Another lobby shot

Jordan McMeen of
Blaze Pizza

Blaze Pizza opens today - stay
tuned for a review!
Chairs, tables and other
furnishes await placement
in the completed Dining Terrace
Sarku Japan's sushi bar

Where the press conference was
held earlier in the morning

Lobby of ArcLight Cinemas

Speakers are already installed in
this ArcLight Cinemas auditorium

Very dark shot looking
at the future seats from the
future screen
The corridor inside ArcLight;
note frames to hold
Coming Attractions posters
at left

Curved walls are a feature
inside all ArcLight cineplexes,
Eric Howard of Westfield said

Entrance to Auditorium 7,
where you may one day enter
to screen a movie

The escalators were running
after the hard hat tour; later
I noticed the escalator company
truck outside, meaning they
were probably testing it

But first, let me take a selfie
Now, watch this exclusive, behind-the-scenes video:

No comments:

Post a Comment