Groundbreaking At Sawmill Crossing Paves Way For Fall Theater Opening

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Even though the earth movers went to work almost three weeks ago, the official groundbreaking ceremony for the long-planned Sawmill Crossing shopping-dining-motion picture complex was held Tuesday.


And those in attendance -- the project's development, construction, financial and architectural principles, along with some of its most gung-ho political and civilian supporters -- were not trying to conceal their glee.


In fact, some had the same gleam in their eyes as those kids who started lining up for "Star Wars Part One: The Phantom Menace" four months before it opened.


This group, though, will have about six months to enjoy the anticipation. The cinemas' six screens will be illuminated by late October or early November to take advantage of the holiday movie season, Gordon Whiting, vice president of Kaibab Industries, Inc., said.


The Sawmill Crossing project will be built on 14 acres south of Main Street and west of the Beeline Highway. The complex will be built around a territorial architectural theme, Whiting said, with covered walkways and pedestrian-friendly common areas.


Three buildings, which will house the theaters and nearly 30,000 square feet of retail and office space, will be built on 7.5 acres of the northern portion of the parcel during the first phase of the project.


Additionally, three pad sites along the Beeline, and one on Main will be marketed with the first phase, for which Kaibab has spent more than $270,000 on architectural design, civil engineering and site preparation. The pads are likely sites for chain restaurants, Whiting said.


The remaining five acres will be developed later during the second phase of the project, Whiting said.


The 16,500-square-foot cineplex -- the town's first movie venue since the Payson Picture Show closed in 1998 -- will feature stadium seating and digital sound in the two largest auditoriums.


Although admission and concession prices have not been determined, they won't be as high as Phoenix prices, promised Brian Deveny, who will operate and manage the theater for Kaibab.


The hiring of Deveny completes the cineplex puzzle for Kaibab, Whiting said.


Kaibab officials initially intended to lease the theater to a tenant, but after that deal fell through, they decided that Kaibab would operate the theaters.


With that plan in place, all Kaibab needed was a signed management contract with an experienced theater operator.


Enter Deveny, who has more than 20 years experience in theater operations and film distribution. For the past five years, Deveny has owned and operated the Saguaro Theater in Wickenburg, and he's served as president of the Arizona Theater Owners Association since July 1966.


In previous years, Deveny was a film buyer and office manager for Cinema Service Inc. in Los Angeles; general manager for the Pacific Theater chain's largest indoor multi-plex in southern California; district manager for the California Theater Management Corp. in Los Angeles; and city manger for a pair of theater operations in Santa Monica, Calif.


Deveny said he is excited to be part of the Sawmill Crossing theaters from the beginning, because he will be able to tailor the state-of-the-art six-plex to suit Payson moviegoers.


Deveny said there are only two recent movie exhibition innovations that he may ignore: admission and concession purchases by credit card, and the new digital projection system that would do away with film and conventional projectors.


Of the former, he said, "The film distributors already get such a big chunk of every box-office dollar that I'd hate to give them even more," since the distributor can take a small processing fee out of each credit card transaction.


Of the latter -- wherein movies would be digitally downloaded from a satellite signal and projected with all-new computer technology that would cost about $100,000 per theater auditorium upgrade -- Deveny quotes Steven Spielberg: "As long as I'm making films, they will be on film."


To date, Sawmill Crossing's only other sure-thing tenant is a 2,400-square-foot Mexican restaurant tentatively named La Casina. Gilbert resident Barry Wilkinson is planning to coincide the opening of the restaurant with that of the six-plex.


"As far as food goes, it will be mostly authentic, homemade Mexican food," Wilkinson said.

"Have you ever eaten at the El Charro restaurant in the Valley? Our menu will be very similar."


Coldwell Banker's Bob McQueen, the local contact for retail space in Sawmill Crossing, said a deposit has been put down for a New York-style deli, and that there are several other potential merchants who aren't as close to lease commitments.


The final number of tenants, McQueen said, will be driven by how much space each tenant wants.


"What we hope to provide is a one-stop evening," McQueen said. "You park your car once, you shop, have your hair or nails done -- there will be a beauty shop, no doubt. Then you have a choice of restaurants, from white table cloths to something more informal. After dinner, you take in a movie, and then stop for a refreshment on your way out.


"That's something Payson's never had," McQueen said, "and I think we've got the setting to do that."

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