July 5, 2006 - The Northwest will have more than 40 screens at three theaters by 2008.

Developers have planned state-of-the-art theaters for both Marana and Oro Valley, in addition to the existing theater at Foothills Mall on La Cholla Boulevard.

Linda Vista Cinemas will break ground on Marana's theater later this summer. The local company plans to open the 16-screen facility in May, just in time for blockbuster openings like Spiderman 3, Shrek 3 and the next installment of the Harry Potter series.

"It would really help us have a nice grand opening," said Kent Edwards, a general partner with the theater company.

The 54,000-square-foot theater will become the area's first digital cinema, with wall-to-wall screens and 300-seat rooms.

Arizona Pavilions and Continental Ranch developer Greg Wexler has moved his modular office to make room for the theater on Business Park Drive just west of Interstate 10 off the Cortaro Road exit.

The $14 million theater will serve "a whole new audience of people who don't go to the Foothills Mall," Edwards said.

He first talked with Wexler about building a theater in the large commercial development about seven years ago. But, Edwards said no need existed then.

"Marana was so young. Now, it's a high-growth area with a huge entertainment demand."

A digital theater means "crystal clear pictures the first time and every time" customers watch a movie, Edwards explained.

In the long run, it will save the company money, avoiding expensive costs for having studios ship prints to Marana.

The theater will have company in the form of more restaurants as Wexler fills out the Pavilions. Construction will begin on Chili's, Panda Express and the long-awaited In-N-Out Burger all by early fall, Wexler said.

To the east in Oro Valley, Vestar Development Co. has plans to put another theater at Tangerine and Oracle roads, part of a huge commercial development subsidized by tax incentives passed by voters earlier this year.

Linda Vista Cinemas has expressed interest in operating Oro Valley's theater, too.

"Several different companies have expressed interest in the projects," Vestar Project Manager David Malin said. "We haven't started looking at them yet."

Vestar's theater will have between 12 and 16 screens with stadium seating and surround sound. It will set at the crux of the boomerang shaped 865,000-square-foot shopping center, which Vestar hopes will include a bookstore, a sporting goods retailer, women's apparel shops and other specialty shops.

"We'll have exciting restaurants and destination-type retailers currently not in Oro Valley," Malin said. "Without question, though, the theater is an anchor" for the project.

Slated to open in September in 2008, the theater will draw visitors from throughout Oro Valley, Dove Mountain and other places in northern Marana, Malin predicted.

"We'll continue to have folks coming here," Oro Valley Economic Development Director David Welsh said. "Both to northern Marana and Oro Valley."

Customers coming east on Tangerine Road from Marana might have a closer option a few years down the road, though.

Westcor Development Co. continues to consider building a theater as part of its retail mall at Tangerine Road and Interstate 10.

"We're thinking about it," Vice President Mitch Stallard said. "We haven't made any contacts with theaters yet. We're still in the planning stages."

Marana's growing population would have no problem supporting two theaters, he said.

The AMC Loews Foothills Cinemas offers 15 screens. The mall offered just eight screens until a renovation rejuvenated the mall and the theater added more screens. Employees at the theater forwarded requests for comments to their corporate offices in Kansas City, where messages went unreturned.

Depending on Vestar's plans, the Northwest could have almost 50 screens in two years.

The area probably couldn't support any more than three theaters, Edwards said.

"Once there are three theaters in (the Northwest), that will definitely max it out," he said. "Of course, Westcor could come along in five or six years with another."

Movies appeal to every demographic, he added.

"Income is not important; neither is education. Everyone goes to the movies."

Until his theater opens, Edwards will continue taking his children to the foothills to see movies. That will change for him and thousands of others when May rolls around.

Malin echoed those sentiments.

The Vestar project "is an open-air type of place families will want to go." The distance between the planned theater and the foothills, in addition to the sheer size of Vestar's shopping center, will bring people to the movies in Oro Valley, Malin said.

"The foothills won't even compete."

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