The Market Square Cinema Cafe, the third recent attempt to open a movie theater in downtown Roanoke Virginia, is expected to win city approval within a month.
Randy Moneymaker, who would operate the theater-restaurant with two partners, and Philip Sparks, Roanoke's acting city director of economic development, said Wednesday they are nearing completion of a lease for 5,000 square feet on the ground floor of the city's parking garage on Church Avenue at Market Street.
Moneymaker said the negotiations are down to details and he expects the lease to be signed shortly. Roanoke City Council would be asked to approve a final lease, terms of which were not disclosed Wednesday.
The theater would replace first-floor parking at the multilevel garage. The garage, between the Norfolk Southern Building and the downtown fire station, primarily serves workers in downtown office buildings.
There have been two other proposals for movie houses downtown, but Sparks said this concept is nearing fruition.
The Market Square Cinema Cafe would show second-run movies similar to those on screens at the Grandin, Terrace and Towers theaters, Moneymaker said. Major first-run films would be too expensive for the new theater to lease, he said.
He plans two screens, one with 120 seats and another with 140 seats. He estimated that the theaters will draw 72,000 customers a year.
But instead of sitting in normal theater-style seats, patrons would sit at small tables and eat during the performances. Instead of patrons going to the lobby for popcorn, Moneymaker said, waitresses would serve food at the tables.
The cinema cafe menu would include hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, pizza, soft drinks, wine and beer.
Despite the food service, Moneymaker said, the enterprise would be a theater first and a restaurant second. He envisions it as a place where a couple can have dinner and see a movie for less than $20. Admission to the movies will be $2 to $3 per person.
Movies will be shown in the evening. During lunch time, Moneymaker said, the cinema cafe would serve lunch with television shows projected on 20-foot screens - among the largest in Roanoke. He plans to show talk shows from the Fox network in one room and hopes to arrange to show CNN news in the other screening room. There will be no admission at midday.
On Saturday mornings the operation would feature children's movies, encouraging parents to drop off kids while they shop downtown.
He plans to have a midnight movie on Saturday nights, and he may project football games on the giant screens on Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings during the season.
Moneymaker said the venture hopes to attract guests from the Hotel Roanoke. He said he will work on promotions with nearby businesses to help bring people downtown for shopping and entertainment.
Moneymaker grew up in Roanoke. The corporation formed to own the theater, in fact, is called Vista Heights Entertainment Co. for the neighborhood in which he and his partners - Tim Webber and Marcel Shoemaker - were reared.
Moneymaker left Roanoke for military school at the age of 16 and later entered military service. He most recently worked for Paramount Pictures, selling specialty merchandise to theme parks such as King's Dominion. He has lived in Clearwater, Fla.; Richmond; and Canada.
He said he got the idea for the theater from newspaper clippings sent to him about Roanoke Mayor David Bowers' "state of the city" address in 1994. In that speech, Bowers said he would like to see a movie theater in downtown Roanoke. Moneymaker then approached the city about the idea and formed his company.
Newspaper clipping submitted by Will Moneymaker