Theater Sequel Set For Sawmill

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They say that when it rains, it pours, and soon, Rim country theater buffs may be showered with movie selections.


Tuesday evening, the Kaibab Industries Board of Directors voted to move forward with the construction of the Sawmill Crossing Shopping Center near the corner of Main Street and Beeline Highway. That on-again, off-again project is back on with a six-screen movie theater as its centerpiece.


Last week, George Harrison, owner of Payson Village Shopping Center and the Payson Center, announced that he was moving forward with plans to convert the vacant Wal-Mart building off Highway 260 into a four-screen theater.


"We're still going through with it," Harrison said, "even though we may still be facing competition on the other end of town. We have to go through with this ... we've already made commitments and signed leases."


Gordon Whiting, vice president of Kaibab's property management division, has been struggling with the Sawmill Crossing project for nearly two years. He said his company's decision to move forward was contingent upon two things, both of which are related to money, not potential competition.


"The first thing it's contingent upon is that we have to rebid the project," Whiting said Thursday. "Our general contractor is going to rebid it over the next couple of weeks, and if the construction budget comes within the parameters we've set -- and I'm sure it will --then we're ready to go.


"The second thing it's contingent upon is financing," he said. "The bank is insisting a reappraisal of all of our real estate holdings. We don't expect any surprises there either. I'm sure property values haven't dropped up there, have they?"


At the forefront of Kaibab's earlier Sawmill problems was the trouble it had securing a deal with the movie operator, which was then E&W Theaters of Van Nuys, Calif. E&W finally pulled out of the deal due to endless delays and increasing costs.


In the end, Kaibab decided it will operate the theater with the help of Brian Deveny, a theater operator from Wickenburg and the president of the Arizona Theater Operators Association.

Whiting said Kaibab will stick with its original vision for the theater -- a six-screen complex with stadium seating and a state-of-the-art sound system.


All in all, Whiting said, he's confident that the deal is about 95 percent done.


"We'd like to start the dirt work in March --as soon in March as we can," he said. "With a seven-month construction schedule, we should have the theaters open in mid-October."

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