Plans for new cinema looking dim

By Andrew Clark
Globe Correspondent / October 8, 2009

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If things had gone according to plan, a 12-screen cinema would be opening about now on the site of the former Macy’s store in Brockton’s Westgate Mall. But today, it’s just a fenced-off dirt lot, with knee-high weeds and loose rubble.

It’s a desolate sight that frustrates Brockton residents who were hoping for the city’s first movie theater since the Hoyts Cinema closed in 2004. And time may be running out.

According to Christopher MacMillan, the Ward 7 city councilor, Atlanta-based Gregory Greenfield & Associates originally planned to begin construction this past spring. But the work never began because the economic crisis hampered financing for the $20 million project.

In May, Gregory Greenfield requested a year-long extension with National Amusements, the national theater chain that would run the facility, in order to secure the funding. But with about seven months left before the deadline, the prospects of starting construction appear dim, said MacMillan, whose ward encompasses the mall area.

“The hope is that it can get started by May 2010, or it will likely become a dead issue,’’ said MacMillan, who has worked with the developer throughout the process. “But since nothing will get done during the winter months, there is a pretty bleak five-month window for the developers to work with.’’

This news has not been welcomed by Brocktonians hungry for local entertainment. These days, moviegoers from the city usually drive to the Showcase Cinema in Randolph.

“I frequently visited the old theater when it was at Westgate and was very sad to see it close down,’’ said Danielle Bates, 18, a Brockton native. “Now, instead of the convenience of having a theater in my own city, it is necessary to travel at least 20 minutes to see a movie in a decent theater. Enough is enough.’’

Saying she was disappointed by the delay, Bates said the construction site is “awful to look at’’ and that navigating the mall area has become “an annoying hassle.’’

The February 2008 announcement of plans for a 56,000-square-foot theater and 18,500 square feet of adjoining retail space also had created a buzz among some out-of-towners who felt that a state-of-the-art cinema would provide an incentive to visit Brockton.

“Brockton absolutely would become more desirable if it had a movie theater,’’ said Zach Dovner, 22, of Sharon. “I think a parallel scenario is the Legacy Place that is being opened in Dedham. Dedham has now become a desired destination for entertainment instead of a town to drive through simply to get to Boston.’’

When asked about the possibility of amending the plans in order to reduce costs, MacMillan said the developers could make alterations.

“They want to bring a 12-screen theater, so that would likely stay the same,’’ said MacMillan. “But the original plan was to bring the theater along with the shops and eateries. They probably could do just the theater, but that’s a decision they would have to make.’’

Although the movie theater remains in limbo, some much-anticipated traffic improvements are underway at the mall. Last year, Mayor James Harrington said he hoped these improvements would help control the additional traffic from the cinema.

The $4.6 million project, which is to be completed in 2011, is using federal stimulus money to reduce traffic congestion that has long plagued the Westgate area, according to MacMillan.

Among the changes will be reconstruction of the mall’s Pleasant Street entrance, the reconfiguration of some small roads within the mall area, and repair of Campanelli Drive.

“The hope is that when the realignment of the roads concludes, that it will create a new entrance and exit to the mall,’’ said MacMillan. “This will help alleviate any kind of backup.’’

Andrew Clark can be reached at