Citing a litany of safety concerns and code violations, the Southern Pines Fire and Rescue Department shuttered Sandhills Cinemas 10 on Wednesday.
Fire Chief Mike Cameron says the multiplex will remain closed until the issues are addressed.
“We are not going to allow them to open back up until everything on our critical issue list has been repaired to our satisfaction,” Cameron said.
Officials found issues with the theater’s fire alarms, sprinkler system, exterior lighting and entrances after investigating a complaint from a customer in December. Many of the problems have grown worse since then, Cameron said.
Sandhills Cinemas 10 is owned by Frank Theaters, a chain with corporate offices in Florida. The company announced plans to renovate the multiplex in 2012, but the project never moved forward.
“Over the last three years, the building started to go downhill,” said Ken Skipper, fire marshal for Southern Pines. “There’s been a lack of maintenance.”
The fire department has documented more than 180 violations at the multiplex since 2015.
The condition of the facility has not gone unnoticed by customers.
Complaints about cleanliness and customer service are regularly posted in local Facebook groups, where many users have called for a boycott of the establishment. The multiplex has one-and-a-half stars on Yelp, the local searching and reviewing website, based on more than 50 reviews — making it the most poorly scored movie theater in the region.
“This establishment is unacceptable, and it does not belong in such a beautiful area,” a Yelp user wrote in one typical review. “I’m disgusted with the filthiness of this theater.”
Customers have complained for years about the facility’s odor, worn carpeting, crumbling ceiling tiles, rusted doors and out-of-service toilets. The multiplex has also drawn criticism for its lack of outdoor lighting and dated projection equipment.
Cindy Myrick-Lyons, a Pinehurst resident, swore off Sandhills Cinemas about two years ago after she and her partner had an unpleasant experience at the theater.
“It is the nastiest, grossest place I’ve ever been to in my life,” Myrick-Lyons said. “I wouldn’t let my dog go there.”
She has since shared her concerns with the mayor of Southern Pines and the town manager. She has also written several complaints to Frank Theaters, but has yet to hear back from the company.
Myrick-Lyons says she now watches movies almost exclusively at the Sunrise Theater, a single-screen arthouse in downtown Southern Pines. While she refuses to set foot inside the area’s only multiplex, Myrick-Lyons says it's too much of a hassle to travel outside the county to watch the latest releases. She hopes a new multiplex will eventually open in Moore County.
“I would love for (Sandhills Cinemas) to be torn down and for them to start fresh,” she said. “If they build it, they’re going to fill it up.”
Plans to Expand
When Sandhills Cinemas opened in December 2000, then-owner Brian McCall promised the 10-screen multiplex would provide a “fun, clean environment in which to escape reality for a while and take in a good movie.”
“We’ll be paying attention, not only to the taste for a varied, quality movie menu as well as more popular movies, but also to the details such as cleanliness of the facilities, the things that help ensure a good experience for the movie-goer,” McCall said in an interview on the eve of the theater’s grand opening. “We are providing all the amenities. It will be an attractively landscaped, well-lit, safe and secure place to come to.”
The venue, which outlasted two competing multiplexes in Moore County, was later acquired by Frank Theaters. Bruce Frank, the chain’s CEO, shared an ambitious plan to expand and renovate Sandhills Cinemas in 2012.
Frank said the expansion would add three screens, an IMAX auditorium and a cafe to the facility, among other amenities. The company partnered with EPR Properties, a real estate investment trust based in Kansas City, Missouri, to finance the overhaul.
“This is a serious, serious project,” Frank told The Pilot at the time. “It’s going to be a great development and a true entertainment mecca.”
Years passed without any apparent progress on the project. The company did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls from The Pilot seeking comment on the status of the expansion and the deteriorating condition of the multiplex.
Cameron said the owners of Sandhills Cinemas were notified of the closure and have told the Fire Department that they intend to address the issues.