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Workers put final touches on SouthSide Works Cinema

| Friday, Sept. 10, 2004

Walk through the dust and debris of any new multiplex complex during the final week or so before the grand opening, and you'd swear they'll never make the deadline.

Somehow, it always happens. It all gets done.

So it will be Sept. 17, when the all-new SouthSide Works Cinema 10 debuts. A week before SouthSide Works Cinema's opening, the projection equipment, most of the concession area and all of the thick-cushioned seats in a rust-colored motif have been installed.

State-of-the-art amenities include cup holders and stadium seating.

"The theater part is going to be ready on the 17th," promises Jeffrey George Lewine, president of Jenco Cinemas. The bill of fare will include a mix of wide-release commercial movies and at least two "art" pictures -- foreign or American independent films -- on its 10 screens.

Opening coincidentally just five days after the Sunday closing of the Showcase Cinemas East complex in Wilkins, SouthSide Works will have 1,376 seats divided among its 10 auditoriums, which range in size from 99 to 250 seats. General admission will be $8.50, but with discounted rates of $6 for senior citizens and children younger than 12. All seats will be $6 before 6 p.m.

The multiplex is among the many businesses, shops and restaurants within the new 34-acre SouthSide Works. Damien Soffer is president and chief executive officer of The Soffer Organization, developer of the complex.

The cinemas, located in roughly the center of the multi-block complex, are on the second floor of a building that will have, among its first-floor tenants, an Irish pub called Claddagh and the retailer Urban Outfitters. The Cheesecake Factory faces the cinemas on a shared walk-through plaza that has been designated Cinema Boulevard. It's approximately where 27th Street would be if the street penetrated the complex.

Area veteran exhibitors are part of the theater equation.

Charles Frye, vice president of operations for Jenco Cinemas, until recently managed Star City Cinemas in South Fayette. He is overseeing construction and installation at SouthSide Works Cinemas.

Lewine's JGL Consulting is contracted to manage SouthSide Works Cinemas with an option to lease, he says. Lewine also leases Waterworks Cinemas from J.J. Gumberg Co. He was the proprietor of Star City Cinemas when it opened in 2000. An owner and/or manager of theater circuits from New York City to California for three decades, Lewine was honcho of the old Pittsburgh-based Cinema World chain, which he sold to Carmike Cinemas in 1994.

He's entertaining the notion of reserved seats at the new cinema. But the plan for the moment is just to get up and running, "balancing aesthetics with efficiency," he says.

Lewine would like to present, or at least participate in, special events such as the Jewish-Israeli Film Festival and the Three Rivers Film Festival, which are among those being discussed and negotiated.

The concession stand initially will offer "traditional fare," he said. "We'll try to add onto it some sort of continental fare."

One downside to patrons who abandoned Downtown moviehouses years ago for suburban multiplexes, which offer acres of free parking: parking. There's plenty available in the two new parking structures, but they are pay lots. As of now, parking prices will fluctuate depending on the time of day.

"It's the city," Soffer says with a shrug. "We have 4,000 structured parking places here."

Soffer describes a visit to SouthSide Works as a destination where a visitor can park in a single location and access all retailers, restaurants and entertainment.

Lewine says he's toying with plans to offset parking costs with bargain rates of a kind unprecedented in the Pittsburgh market. Stay tuned.

He's eager to find out what will fly best at the new site in terms of movies and concessions. The identity of the SouthSide Works development, which seems to lean upscale, might determine what works best in the cinemas.

"The only thing worse than not doing it at all," Lewine says, "is doing it badly."

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