Arts & Entertainment

Get a sneak peek at Tri-Cities new movie theater and more on when it will open

Mamie Gale was getting ready for work Monday when Jeff Fairchild left a question on her voice mail.

What color do you want for the entry of the 10-screen cinema under construction in Kennewick’s Southridge neighborhood?

Gale, who manages the Fairchild movie houses in Richland, Pasco and Moses Lake, returned her boss’s call about 20 minutes later to say she preferred gray.

Too late. Fairchild had selected blue. By mid-morning, painters were calmly applying blue to the drywall.

Such is the pace of work at the newest Fairchild Cinema. Gale is determined to open the Southgate Cinema by early November, in time for the holiday movie season.

The project is about two weeks behind schedule, which Gale attributes to the company serving as its own general contractor.

Fairchild Mamie Gale
Manager Mamie Gale stands in the freshly painted lobby Monday of the new 10-screen Fairchild Cinemas at Southgate movie theater near Walmart. The finishing touches are still underway for the new building at 2823 S. Quillan St. in Kennewick. Watch a video at: Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

With just seven or so weeks left to go, workers are ticking through a long list of jobs that need to wrap up before the first major deadline, Oct. 21.

That’s when a team of technicians is coming to certify the two larger auditoriums as Dolby Atmos spaces.

Dolby Atmos theaters are packed with speakers and noise balancing systems and are particularly popular for viewing action flicks. Fairchild went through the same process for its Queensgate cinema in 2015.

Fairchild parking Southgate
The parking lot of the Fairchild Cinemas at Southgate has been paved and painted in preparation for the anticipated opening of the new 10-screen movie theater in early November. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Last week, the parking lot was paved, and it was striped by Saturday.

This week, painters are transforming concrete caverns into colorful places, and tilers are busy in the restrooms and kitchens.

High above the public spaces, technicians are wiring up the servers that will deliver movies, trailers and other video to the screens, via satellite download. The entire system is automated and controlled remotely from the main office.

The 10 vinyl screens are stored for now in tubes the size of building columns in the lobby.

The Southgate Cinema echoes its Queensgate twin in most ways.

Guests will enter a spacious lobby. Tickets are sold online and buyers can reserve their seats in advance. Concessions, including a bar and food, are available in the lobby.

Under Washington law, alcohol can only be brought into the auditoriums with fewer than 100 seats. Until it changes, beer, wine and cocktails are off limits in the two larger Dolby Atmos spaces.

Fairchild interior work
Visitors walk around construction workers busy with interior finish work Monday for the new Fairchild Cinemas at Southgate building in Kennewick. The 10-screen movie theater is expected to open in early November. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Gale said alcohol is a popular offering but not the main driver of the business. Fairchild limits customers to one drink purchase at a time, and a three-drink limit per visit. It scans IDs to keep track.

Its theaters offer reclining leather seats in 10 separate auditoriums with a combined seating of about 1,000. The Dolby Atmos spaces seat about 170. The smaller auditoriums seat 80 to 95.

For Kennewick, Fairchild doubled up on insulation to prevent sound from traveling between theaters.

The Atmos spaces are larger than their Queensgate peers, with screens that are 7 feet wider and spaces that are 10 feet deeper.

screen 1.jpg
Courtesy Fairchild Cinema

That translates to a larger viewing area and seven more feet between the front row and the screen.

Each row of seating has 3 additional inches of leg room. As with its other cinemas, Fairchild Southgate is tiered so all seats offer unobstructed views.

And the larger seating capacity drove larger restrooms.

Gale said Fairchild has hired managers for the new theater but won’t hire staff until about two weeks before opening. Hiring and other details will be announced on Fairchild’s Facebook page, @FairchildCinemasSouthgate

The city of Kennewick activated a new stoplight at nearby Olson Street last week in anticipation of the new theater driving more traffic to the Canyon Lakes neighborhood.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.