MARQUETTE - In the Hollywood tradition of directors and promoters tantalizing moviegoers with promises of big revelations, Tom Andes is keeping many of the details about his new $10 million multiplex theater being built in Marquette Township quiet until the grand opening next year.
What Andes is saying, is that his Thomas Theatre Marquette will by no means be ordinary.
"This will be without a doubt, the nicest theater in the country," said Andes, whose family-owned business also operates the Tri-City Cinema 8 in Quinnesec and the Willow Creek Cinema 8 in Escanaba, which both opened in 1994.
An artist’s rendering of the outside of the new Thomas Theatre Group multiplex theater being built in Marquette Township is shown. (Thomas Theatre Group image)
"There was a lot of thought involved in the design of this theater," Andes said. "Nobody else has the things we're talking about, so it will be unique not only to the Marquette area, but to multiplex theaters as a whole."
The $6.9 million building project will include a 31,667 square-foot theater with 10 screens, with eventual plans to expand to 14. With all 10 theaters at full capacity, the multiplex will hold 1,115 people in stadium-style seating. The development will also include a 280-space parking lot.
In all, Andes said about $10 million will be spent on the theater, which is being built by Gundlach Champion at 1525 Commerce Drive, near Wright Street.
Andes said the theater will have a decidedly "Marquette feel." Staff from a Kansas City design firm working on the project visited mines and other sites in the Upper Peninsula, looking for features to include in the theater's decor that will showcase the region's geography and mining and timbering history. The theater will have a view of Lake Superior.
"There's going to be some unique features," Andes said. "It promises to be a very positive addition to the city of Marquette and the township."
Marquette Township planner Jason McCarthy recently said the theater compliments the township's plans for its development district and will be built near the residential area of Trowbridge Park and the Cedarville Townhomes.
He said residents will be able to walk and ride bicycles to the theater.
After recently receiving necessary township approvals, a groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday, kicking off what is expected to be an accelerated construction schedule.
"The next nine months are going to be very exciting for us," Andes said.
Andes said he hopes the shell of the building can be erected this fall with the theater equipment - including digital projectors, sound and 3-D - being installed next year with hopes of a May opening.
"It will have all the latest and greatest technology you could ever want in a theater facility," Andes said.
The family-oriented theater plans to offer discounts for businesses, students and other groups and will have a party room that can be reserved for private events.
Andes said he is not convinced new attempts elsewhere to draw customers to movie theaters - like selling alcohol and meals to patrons - will be successful. He said the theater industry is closely watching his new showcase project.
Andes, who since 2010 is the latest to head his family's 90-year-old Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin Thomas Theatre Group business, said his great grandfather built the Delft Theater in Marquette.
He said Michigan construction crews will be used on the new project and he's proud money spent at the theater by the public will help support U.P. jobs and families. He said the 35 to 50 jobs the theater is expected to create will push the total number of workers at the company's three theaters to more than 100, a milestone he considers significant.
Andes said the project began in February 2011, with engineering, architecture and financing developed since.
"It's been a very long and challenging process," Andes said.
He said the theater's completion will not be an achievement solely for him but will be "the manifestation of a whole lot of people working."
Andes said finding a good location with property large enough to build the theater was the biggest challenge in developing the project.
For this reason, he discarded any hopes of building the multiplex theater in downtown Marquette - once home to the Delft and Nordic theaters across Washington Street from each other, but since last year no longer has a movie theater.
The theater company eventually bought 7 acres from Cornerstone Development for the project.
Andes said an email from an area resident who hoped for a better theater experience for his family -which Andes keeps framed in his office - initially inspired his building the theater in the Marquette area.
"We have a lot of people in Marquette drive all the way to Escanaba to watch movies," he said.
Andes said the welcome the company has received in the Marquette area has been fantastic and a breath of fresh air, which he said "makes a difference" to a young entrepreneur.
"We'll never forget that," Andes said. "I couldn't imagine being in a better place."
Andes said he thinks the public is going to be "very happy" with the theater, which he said will be "unique and first-class."
"We've tried not to let down people's expectations," he said.
In an interview with The Mining Journal, Andes' excitement about the project was palpable, so much so it appeared he might at any moment betray some of the details of the theater he's withholding.
However, that didn't happen.
The secrecy is necessary he said, "So when we open the doors to the public they're blown away."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org