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One of Chapel Hill’s last chain movie theaters might not reopen post-COVID if a Cary developer moves ahead with plans for a new medical office.
Regal Timberlyne, which opened in 1993, is one of 18 Regal Theatre locations in North Carolina. Other Triangle locations are in Raleigh, Cary, Garner and Apex.
The six-screen, 1,350-seat theater, located at 120 Banks Drive near the Timberlyne shopping center, closed in March when the state shut down to stem COVID-19 infections. The state has not yet lifted its restrictions on movie theaters.
Online postings show Foundry Commercial had listed the theater property for sale in January. Cary-based Parkway Holdings Phase 2 LLC plans to close on the property in December, so it’s unlikely the theater will reopen, Parkway Holdings manager Eli Zablud said.
Regal Theatre officials did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Parkway Holdings representative, TMTLA Associates, submitted a concept plan Aug. 12 for medical offices and clinics on the 1.53-acre site. A concept plan is a rough idea of what might be built and not an official application.
It was presented Tuesday to the town’s Community Design Commission for review and feedback.
Modern look, medical tenants
Zablud has built office park and medical projects, as well as child-care and preschool facilities, Little Pros Academy and Oak Village Academy.
In Chapel Hill, he proposes demolishing the Timberlyne theater’s north and south wings to make way for 18 additional parking spaces. The rest of the building would be modernized and clad in white plaster with wood-style masonry tile details.
The project also would replace a dilapidated fence behind the theater, create a connection to nearby Walgreens, and replace the building’s plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems. The primary tenant would be a radiology clinic, the application stated.
No additional driveways or sidewalks are planned. The new building would be roughly 20,000 square feet — about 2,500 square feet smaller than the theater — and remain one story.
In addition to Walgreens, the building is located next to the Timberlyne Animal Hospital and is within walking distance of UNC Orthopaedics at Weaver Crossing. Additional medical offices are located to the north and east, along Weaver Dairy Road. A mobile home park is directly behind the theater.
The commission praised the plan to repurpose the building, with Commissioner John Weis calling it “a major, major investment.” Commissioner Polly Van De Velde suggested adding trees and planters to the exterior of the building to soften the edges.
Chapel Hill movie theaters
When it opened, Regal Timberlyne was one of three chain theaters offering Hollywood blockbusters in Chapel Hill. The others were the former Ram Triple Theater on East Rosemary Street and the former Village Plaza Theatres on South Elliott Road.
Eastern Federal demolished the Plaza in 2004 to build a new, 10-screen theater, but the deal fell apart. The Berkshire Chapel Hill apartment building was constructed on the site in 2015. Ram Triple, located in the basement of the CVS building, closed in 2000.
Chapel Hill’s newest theater, Silverspot Cinema, opened in 2015 at University Place mall. The town also has a few small, independent theaters that have seen their own tough times: Lumina Theater in Southern Village, the Varsity Theatre on East Franklin Street, and Chelsea Theater in the Timberlyne shopping center.
The Chelsea was about to close in 2017, when 11 local film buffs launched a grassroots campaign, Save the Chelsea, and bought it. The theater is run now by a nonprofit organization and, before COVID, was supported through ticket sales, concessions and memberships.
In August, the Chelsea joined 10 other arthouse theaters in @homeArts, offering independent film rentals online. The group also is raising money to renovate and modernize the theater.
The Lumina also has adapted by offering films on the Southern Village green as part of its Movies by Starlight! series, which runs Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, weather permitting. Every Thursday in September The Lumina has been showing a movie significant to Black history and donating part of the proceeds to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. This week’s movie is “The Hate U Give.”
The Varsity, which in 2014 launched a Kickstarter campaign to upgrade the theater’s equipment to digital films and stay in business, remains closed.