Manor owner weighs idea of opening theater Downtown
January 28, 2014 7:34 PM
The concession area and bar at the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill.
By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rick Stern would like to bring a bit of his family's business back to Downtown.
Mr. Stern, the owner of Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill, is exploring the idea of opening a multi-screen movie theater in the Golden Triangle, perhaps in the former Bally Total Fitness Club building on Sixth Street.
"Downtown is experiencing a resurgence. There's a lot of people moving Downtown. There's a lot of young people Downtown. It's wonderful to see, actually, and I think the timing may be wonderful for a theater," he said.
At one time, Mr. Stern's family owned seven movie theaters Downtown, including the Gateway Theater, the site of Bally's, until it closed in 1980.
Other movie theaters that were part of the family circuit included the Fulton, the Fiesta, Warner, Bank Cinema, Chatham, and the Stanley.
Mr. Stern, who also owns a handful of restaurants in the region, envisions a theater with six to eight screens, depending on the space available.
It would show a blend of mainstream commercial and specialized films.
"I think we would try to pick and choose what best suits our audience. It would be strictly a first-run theater," he said.
He also intends to serve food and alcohol, as he now does at the Manor, where customers can grab a beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail before a show and munch on pizza, chicken tenders, Tuscan meatballs, hummus with pita chips, and other appetizer-like foods.
Mr. Stern spent more than $500,000 in 2012 to renovate the Squirrel Hill landmark. Among the changes, he added a small bar to the back lobby, replaced seats and carpeting, and upgraded projection and sound equipment.
He cautioned that the idea for the Downtown theater is still in the "very preliminary stages."
He said that he has yet to talk to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the owner of the former Bally space, about utilizing the building.
"It's just a twinkle in my eye at this point," he said. "I think it's something that's definitely needed and will be needed more and more as people move into the city. It also would be an attraction for the city and the night life in the city."
John Valentine, executive director of the Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corporation, said his group is willing to help Mr. Stern in any way it can.
"I'm totally supportive. I think this could be a great thing for Downtown. And I think Downtown will support it as well," he said.
Mr. Stern also has had "preliminary conversations" with developer Millcraft Investments, which has redeveloped a number of properties Downtown, about the idea. Millcraft President Lucas Piatt could not be reached for comment.
While Mr. Stern sees the former Bally space as a potential spot for a theater, he noted that he would consider other locations, if appropriate, within the Golden Triangle.
The only other movie theater Downtown right now is the Harris, owned by the cultural trust and operated by the Pittsburgh Filmmakers as an arthouse theater.
Mr. Stern believes his proposed venture would complement the Harris, not compete with it.
Downtown has not had a general-interest film theater since January 1987, when the Fulton Mini on Sixth Street closed.
Despite his ownership of the Manor Theater, Mr. Stern is primarily involved in the restaurant business these days. He and partner Brian Pekarcik own Spoon in East Liberty, BRGR in East Liberty and Cranberry, and Grit & Grace Downtown. Mr. Stern also owns Willow in Ohio Township.
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