The ribbon cutting Thursday at the new AMC Hawthorn 12 theater in Vernon Hills will be ceremonial but the impact palpable for village officials who have waited years for what this project represents.
Moviegoers may enjoy the power reclining seats equipped with technology that allows them to vibrate with the action on the screen, but the theater project is the centerpiece of an extensive $50 million renovation at Westfield Hawthorn mall that is expected to have a broader impact.
"The completion of the project is the culmination of almost 11 years worth of work with Westfield," Village Manager John Kalmar said. "During that time, we saw about a dozen different versions of plans to remodel. We also saw a recession -- there have been a number of challenges."
The 1,200-seat AMC theater opened for business Tuesday but will premiere "The Avengers: The Age of Ultron" on Thursday as the second part of a double feature with "The Avengers." A VIP grand opening/ribbon cutting from 7 to 9 p.m. is the prelude to a weekend of family-oriented activities featuring a food truck festival and a superhero meet and greet.
Fueled, in part, with sales tax rebates that could amount to $13 million, the mall makeover is intended to solidify the village's vast commercial base and keep Vernon Hills at or near the top of retail sales in Lake County. The village instituted a quarter percent home rule sales tax to help offset the cost.
"This is part of the village's strategic investment we made starting in 2008 and 2009 in various commercial properties," Kalmar said. The Westfield package is the sixth to go into effect. Other projects assisted by the village include a Mariano's grocery store, Dick's Sporting Goods and an hhgregg appliance and electronics store.
"Overall, it has been tremendously successful and helped us maintain our position in the retail market," Kalmar said. "The properties that have received them (incentive packages) have grown and flourished and are in pretty good shape coming out of the recession."
Westfield describes the arrival of the theater as a "pivotal stage" in a revitalization project that began in late 2013. The expansion also includes: the renovation of three mall entrances and creation of a fourth for AMC; several new restaurants, including Smashburger and Maggiano's Little Italy; a revamped food court; a Dave & Buster's restaurant/arcade; and, a comprehensive sign package. About the only work left is installation of two 40-foot signs with electronic displays off main entrances on routes 60 and 21.
At an estimated $15 million construction value, the new theaters are a key attraction. Westfield is trying to rebrand the 1970s-era, 1.4 million-square-foot center as a destination for entertainment and dining, as well as shopping.
"We'll see what other stores are attracted (to the mall) once this gets up and running," Mayor Roger Byrne said.
Located at a new mall entrance on the northeast side between Sears and JCPenney, the AMC area has room for shops and two restaurants, tentatively planned for BZ's Twisted American Cuisine and Tucano's Brazilian Grill. A Marketplace fest-serve food will be in the theater and will be joined this summer by a full-service bar called MacGuffins.
Moviegoers will be able to take alcoholic beverages into the auditorium and also can use online ticketing, reserved seating and mobile ticketless entry.
"The response from guests to AMC's recliner seating is revolutionizing the industry in ways we haven't seen for decades, but the movie theater experience is more than just a comfortable chair," Mark McDonald, executive vice president of development, said in a news release.
AMC also operates Showplace Vernon Hills 8 in town.
"It's our plan for AMC (Showplace) Vernon Hills to remain open and continue to offer a variety of films and show times for guests to enjoy," said Erin Gregory, manager of corporate communications.