The concept for the luxury twin cinema started with a phone call from a friend working with developers who wanted to bring an IMAX theater to York, entrepreneur Penn Ketchum recalled.
"And I met with them to explain to them why you can't build an IMAX in downtown York," Ketchum said.
Still, the meeting was positive for what is planned as a $7 million development that will include a luxury twin-screen movie theater at its core. It won't be IMAX, but it will still be high impact, partners say.
A restaurant and offices also are part of the 33,000-square-foot facility.
The project itself grew out of the vision of education management company 3 Cord Inc.'s managing officer, Isiah Anderson, to have a "catalytic project" near the corridor, which stretches from about the 400 block of West King Street to the York County Heritage Rail Trail, said Richard Miller, project manager with 3 Cord.
This project will be an example of what success is possible with hard work, he said. It will also provide jobs, be an economic driver for the west side and create a community gathering place in the neighborhood, Miller said.
In the past several years, city focus on this part of York has led to residential and quality-of-life improvements such as the Salem Square neighborhood revitalization and getting rid of a nuisance bar, said Shilvosky Buffaloe, deputy director of economic and community development.
"The momentum has been there, even in light of a down economy," he said.
Miller said the area is at a tipping point for overall revitalization since it is on the edge of York's central business district and near residential projects in the city. The luxury twin will bring a commercial component to the mix as an economic driver, he said.
Developers are working to get tenants committed in order to secure financing, Miller said. They want to get the facility open for business by the release of the second "Avatar" film, which is expected in 2014, he said.
"We have a lot of leg work to do," he said.
Originally, developers had thought of IMAX for the site as a way to a big splash, Miller said.
But the property is not far enough from the Frank Theatres location in York Township that has IMAX, and there are rules about how close theaters carrying the format can be to each other, said Ketchum, managing partner of two independently owned cinemas in Lancaster County and Delaware.
But the meeting with developers got his wheels turning, the movie theater entrepreneur recalled. Ketchum grew up in Brooklyn and, as a city kid at heart, he was impressed by the energy he felt building in York's urban core.
"And I really think movie-going really goes hand in hand with the energy that is coming back to cities," he said.
But to make it work, he envisioned the best of both worlds: a community theater that's walkable from city neighborhoods yet boasts the best sound systems and high-backed arm chairs for seating that moviegoers have come to expect at a multiplex, Ketchum said.
It wasn't the number of screens as much as it was the amenities and big experience of modern multiplexes that doomed most neighborhood cinemas, he hypothesizes.
For this project, there might only be two screens, but they will be the largest in York County, he said.
Ketchum worked in Lancaster County government for years and said he came to the movie business like an avid golfer who feels like there aren't good golf courses in his or her area.
"Eventually it might cross your mind, 'Hey, we should build a golf course,'" he said.
Ketchum and his business partners launched the first Penn Cinema in the Lititz area in 2006, and the business more recently opened a second site on the Wilmington, Del., waterfront in 2012.
The York site won't be a Penn Cinema, Ketchum said.
Developers are seeking a company to buy naming rights to the facility since the vision is for a facility integrated into a community the same as a ballpark or arena is, he said. If the entire model works out, it could lead to more like it, Ketchum said.
"It could be part of a whole new trend in movie-going, I think," he said.