“When the movie theater at Mizner Park closed, it was a sad day for downtown,” said Boca Raton Mayor Susan Whelchel, addressing a sunburned media crowd of several dozen this morning in Mizner Park. She acknowledged the loss of business that downtown Boca has suffered since Frank Theaters at Mizner Park shuttered in January of 2011. But starting this summer, that’s all going to change, when iPic Theaters, a national chain started by local resident Hamid Hashemi, opens its first Palm Beach County location in the old Mizner Cinema space. “Going to the movies at iPic is like going to the Oscars every time you walk in the door,” Whelchel said.
Hashemi echoed this sentiment in a brief presentation outlining the iPic experience: a simulation of upscale living-room comfort in the confines of a first-run movie theater. The eight-screen iPic Boca Raton will feature a total of just 480 seats – down from 1,900 in the Sunrise Cinemas days – ensuring plenty of legroom for every patron. The theater is stocked with “premium” and “premium plus” leather seating options, many of which have full reclining capabilities. Blankets and pillows are handed out to guests who purchase premium-plus tickets.
Hashemi said the theater is “designed for all the conveniences you’d have at home. Except at home you might have to pause the movie and go to the fridge to get a beer; here you push a button, and service will come to you” courtesy of servers from Tanzy, the 7,000-square-foot restaurant-bar included on the premises. (If you’re an old-school moviegoer and just want popcorn, it’s free with a ticket purchase.)
The design for the building is currently under construction, but images from other iPic theaters suggest the ambience of luxury hotels. Indeed, Hashemi has been inspired by extravagant hotels like the W. chain.
It remains to be seen how the theater will handle what I’m anticipating to be a supply-and-demand problem; with just 40 to 60 seats per auditorium, I’m expecting that moviegoers will have to be turned away on weekends. I’m also skeptical of Hashemi’s claim that iPic admission prices will be “comparable to other theaters in the market.” If iPic Boca Raton’s prices will be similar with the rest of the iPic theaters nationwide, patrons can expect to pay $17.50 to $26 depending on where they sit, prices more indicative of live theatre than most cinemas.
But chances are you’ll get what you pay for; luxury usually doesn’t come cheap. iPic will be a boon to downtown Boca, both as a jobs magnet – it will hire some 250 employees – and as an economic draw for Mizner, as moviegoers begins to flock back to the Park. The closure of old movie theater may have been a blessing in disguise for the city; along with Living Room Theaters, a local business success story on the FAU campus, iPic is enhancing the level of comfort in our movie theaters. Cinema is evolving, and Boca Raton continues to be front and center in its movement.