Theater opens for business

Century Theatres opened to the public Friday despite projectionist union picket lines that canceled the 18-screen multiplex’s opening events Wednesday and Thursday.

Picketers from the Motion Picture Projectionist and Video Technicians Local 110 began their protest Wednesday, contending that Century Theatres wrongfully refused to hire the union’s workers. Construction and inspection of the theater was delayed Wednesday and Thursday when construction workers followed union courtesies and left the building site at the arrival of the projectionist union’s picketers.

Theater representatives declined this week to comment on the protest.

“We won’t be commenting on that now or ever,” said Nancy Klasky, vice president of marketing for Century Theatres, a company based in San Rafael, Calif.

But Klasky said she was pleased with the public’s response to the theater’s opening and hoped to expand into the Chicago market.

“People were just jumping around, really excited about the theater,” she said. “I’m very proud of the theater and that it came out as beautiful and special as it is.”

Ald. Arthur Newman (1st) said he, too, was excited about the theaters and what they brought to Evanston. With the opening of the Maple Avenue parking garage, the theater’s impact on downtown traffic and parking problems has been minimal, he said.

“It’s a great thing for the students and the rest of the community,” he said. “I’m hoping it will be successful.”

Moviegoers Friday agreed that the theater’s convenience was its main asset, adding that the multiplex’s central downtown location and proximity to two train stations make it more attractive than the theaters at Skokie’s Old Orchard Shopping Center.

“I’m really tired of going all the way to Old Orchard and having to leave 20 minutes early to find parking,” said Evanston resident Keith Heyward. “This is really nice. It’s a convenient location.”

Weinberg junior Brian Chang agreed.

“It’s awesome; it’s like we’re not in Evanston,” Chang said. “We don’t normally get to go to movies on the weekend. The design is kind of weird, but, hey, a movie theater is a movie theater.”

Some patrons said they were turned off by the lack of organization on the theater’s opening weekend.

Moviegoers said unfinished construction and large crowds made it difficult for them to find their theaters.

“There were roaming gangs of people and no control — it was just chaos,” said Evanston resident Mike Brodnik. “The facility is nice, but once you get in, it’s just a free-for-all. Anyone can go into any movie.”

Some residents said the plaza’s contemporary outer design is not appropriate for downtown Evanston.

“It feels like it belongs in a shopping mall, not a historic downtown,” said Evanston resident Mark Synkar. “The design of the garage is horrible. It’s horrendous and all lit up, and it needs to be softened.”

Overall, residents and city officials said they were pleased that the theaters were ready to open Friday.

After five years of planning, the first phase of Church Street Plaza — a $90 million entertainment, residential and retail complex — was scheduled to open Wednesday with the theater’s benefit film festival and private reception.

Construction was still under way Thursday night and incomplete for the theater’s opening weekend, causing theater representatives to postpone not only Wednesday’s benefit but also Thursday’s grand opening gala benefits.

Representatives from Century Theatres, property developer Arthur Hill & Co. and two Evanston Rotary clubs had planned a benefit for Thursday for five local charities: The Cradle, Youth Organizations Umbrella, Better Existence with HIV, Fellowship of African-American Men and Christmas in April.

A second event, benefitting the Gene Siskel Film Center for the Art Institute of Chicago at Century Theatres’ CineArts 6 — a six-screen art house attached to the 12-screen multiplex — also was canceled Thursday. Both galas have been rescheduled for Nov. 30.

Picketers apologized for delaying the charity events but said the abnormal hiring practices of Century Theatres called for protests. They said other theater companies such as General Cinema, Loews Cineplex and Meridian Entertainment do not discriminate against union projectionists.

Picketers, who refused to give their names in accordance with union regulations, said projectionist union officials were planning to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against Century Theatres because of its unfair hiring practices. They said they were not sure how long they would hold their picket lines, but were surprised the theater had opened Friday.

City officials said Sunday they would not interfere with the private labor dispute.

“This is between the owners of the theaters and the workers out there,” Newman said. “This is not a public matter.”