The Eastern Band of Cherokee opened Cherokee Phoenix Theatres in 2008 with only two screens, but construction started on an additional four movie screens this summer. The tribe will premiere the expanded theater Nov. 1.
“It’s an exciting project,” said Jason Lambert, economic development director for the Eastern Band. The total cost was $4 million, which the tribe paid without taking on new debt, he added.
With the expansion, the cinema will now have more than 900 plush, rocking seats in six stadium-seated theaters. Each of the six theaters has digital surround-sound and wall-to-wall screens.
The new screens will allow the theater to show more movies at one time and keep it from missing out during times of the year — such as summer and the holiday season — when movie after movie is released.
“A two-screen theater anywhere in the county has a limited amount of movies it can play,” said Karen Lane, a spokeswoman for Phoenix Big Cinemas Management, which runs the day-to-day operations at the theater. “You keep that movie for maybe a week or two, and then, you have to switch it out.”
With only two screens, theater management had to pick which films it thought would play well or the community would like to see most. Sometimes, it would work out to where a children’s movie and a more mature flick were both playing. Other times, the best options were two rated-R movies or two PG films.
“It was trying to play the best selection,” Lane said. “With six screens, it should not be as much of an issue.”
The theater was built as an amenity for enrolled members of the Eastern Band, but it also serves as another activity for vacationers on top of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort and the numerous cultural attractions.
“A lot of times people will watch a movie while on vacation,” Lambert said.
Phoenix Big Cinemas Management had advised the tribe four years ago that additional screens would allow the theater to offer more options and cast a wider net. However, the Eastern Band decided to start out small.
It only began reconsidering adding more screens after more than 1,000 theater patrons signed a petition requesting the expansion. The petition showed tribal officials that the demand is there, Lambert said.
“What propelled it forward was a community petition,” he said. “That really helped us sell it to the planning board.”
To celebrate the expansion, Cherokee Phoenix Theatres will offer free popcorn to customers Nov. 1-3, and the first 100 people who show up to see “Free Birds” on those days will also receive a complimentary Free Birds draw-string bag. Other movies that will be showing include “Ender’s Game,” “Las Vegas,” “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” and “Gravity” in 2D and 3D.
The cinema will host Community Day on Nov. 5. Anyone who purchases a ticket after 6 p.m. will get a second ticket for the same movie free.