Long Beach Cinemas makes a comeback after Sandy
Several workers flitted about the Long Beach Cinemas on a recent Friday afternoon, putting the finishing touches on the concession stand in the lobby and programming the new digital signs over the theater doors.
More than two and a half years after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the four theaters’ movie screens and 550 seats — it was completely gutted after the storm — the renovations were nearly complete after a number of setbacks and delays.
Though a poster of the movie “Argo,” released a few weeks before the storm, was still in the display case, Long Beach’s only movie theater was set to reopen on Friday, in what many are calling another sign of the city’s comeback. However, theater manager Paula Lewis said that they are now hoping to open on Saturday after a last minute delay.
"When people see the marquee lit up, we will be open," she said.
A formal ribbon-cutting ceremony may take place next week.
“It’s a symbol of recovery, and people are very excited,” said employee Aarmonn Lockett, 26.
“We’re shooting to open at the end of the week,” owner Seth Pilevsky said on Monday. “It will be terrific for the community — a small-town movie theater is the life blood of a community, and it will be great for both Long Beach and Nassau County.”
Last fall, Pilevsky, co-president of the Manhattan-based Philips International, which bought the property in 2000 and built the theater, said that he was hopeful that it would reopen in time for the summer.
He said that an architect was hired last year to create design plans for the building’s interior, mainly to install new leather seats, part of an attempt to stay competitive with larger, more modern theaters. A Five Towns resident, Pilevksy said that he was committed to reopening the theater and enjoys taking his kids there. He said that the renovations included the installation of 436 new seats as well as new screens and other upgrades.
The theater will continue to show 3-D films, will now allow moviegoers to purchase tickets in advance and reserve their seats, and will feature two ticket kiosks. It will show first-run films, a mix of mainstream and the occasional independent feature. It is reopening with “Ted 2” and “Inside Out.”
“In a lot of ways, we want to cater to children and families because we are a community theater,” Pilevksy said. “But we are an independent theater, so we have that flexibility to show mainstream and independent films.”
Lewis said that about a dozen new employees will work the digital projections, concession stand and box office and serve as ushers.
“There are some previous employees who came back,” she said. “They’re all Long Beach residents, mostly teenagers and college students.”
News of the reopening was met with praise from city officials, who said that the theater’s closure has been a constant reminder of the storm. “This has been a long time coming,” said Councilman Scott Mandel. “Having our movie theater back is a real boost to the community and a great symbol of Long Beach’s comeback.”
The organizers of the Long Beach International Film Festival, which has been forced to show some of its films in Rockville Centre due to the theater’s closure, also welcomed the news.
“We began the film festival in 2012 with intentions of screening our films during the festival at the Long Beach Cinema 4,” said co-founder Ingrid Dodd. “Devastatingly, Superstorm Sandy took that opportunity away and threatened to end the festival just as we were beginning.”
Dodd said that the theater has offered to partner with the festival going forward.
“We are beyond elated to be able to screen the best, handpicked independent and studio films for our friends, family and festival-goers in such a beautiful, comfortable and state-of-the-art theater,” she said.
The theater is on the former site of the Lido Theater, which was built in the early 1920s. The current theater underwent a major renovation in 2011 that included a new 3-D screen and other improvements.
“It was devastating,” Lewis said of Sandy. “It was very sad to see the place where you work destroyed.”
Pilevsky acknowledged a number of delays and said he was unable to make the necessary repairs immediately after the storm because of the slow pace of the reimbursement process from insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Though he received some insurance money, Pilevsky said, FEMA classified the theater as a basement and did not cover any of the damage.
At one point, there was talk of repurposing the site as retail space, but the city appealed to Philips to reopen, Pilevsky said.
When city officials agreed last year to settle the city’s lawsuit against two developers — Philips International, which is owned by Pilevsky’s father, Philip, and iStar Financial — over the long-vacant Superblock property, for $5.25 million — payable to the city — the terms included a commitment by Philips to reopen the theater. iStar and Philips are the current and former owners of the Superblock property, respectively, and iStar has been given approval to build two new high-rise apartment buildings there.
Pilevsky emphasized that the theater’s reopening was not related to the iStar project.
“There is a misconception about that because everything seems to be happening at the same time, and it’s not the case,” he said. “The Superblock had nothing to do with it. I think that got a little bit confusing.”