Sandhills Cinemas

Town officials have signed off on plans to renovate the maligned Sandhills Cinemas 10 multiplex in Southern Pines. The $1 million project includes new carpeting, reclining seats and other upgrades for the 19-year-old theater.

The Brucewood Road movie complex was temporarily shuttered in May — it missed out on the lucrative Memorial Day holiday weekend — after the Southern Pines Fire Department found multiple deficiencies and code violations. The myriad issues created an unsafe environment for theater-goers, Fire Chief Mike Cameron said at the time. The theater made some repairs and reopened a week later.

Customers have complained for years about the deteriorating condition of the multiplex, the only one in Moore County. The proposed renovation would mark the first major change at the facility since April 2012, when vibrating “D-Box” chairs were installed in some of the theater’s auditoriums.

A commercial building application submitted to the town on July 18 calls for “new luxury recliner seating” with “added electrical outlets for recliner power.” Ken Skipper, fire marshal for Southern Pines, said the larger chairs will reduce the facility’s maximum occupancy.

Other additions described in the application include aisle lighting and “platform framing extensions.” The application lists Eilerson Development Corporation, a Virginia construction company, as the contractor for the project. No timeline was provided for the work.

Sandhills Cinemas is one of 19 multiplexes operated by Frank Theaters, a chain based in Florida. But the plans submitted to the town feature the business logo for Paragon Theaters, a different Florida chain.

The official website for Paragon Theaters says the company specializes in “retrofitting existing theaters, as well as existing retail space that has become available as a result of high vacancy rates.” A Paragon Theaters spokesperson could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Complaints about cleanliness and customer service at Sandhills Cinemas are regularly posted in local Facebook groups, where many users have called for a boycott of the establishment. The facility’s odor, worn carpeting, crumbling ceiling tiles, aging projection equipment and regularly out-of-service toilets are among the issues most commonly cited by unsatisfied customers.

Sandhills Cinemas, Grand Opening

A worker puts finishing touches on the Sandhills Cinemas sign before the grand opening on Dec. 15, 2000. 

Sandhills Cinemas has one-and-a-half stars on Yelp, the local searching and reviewing website, based on more than 60 reviews — making it the most poorly scored multiplex in the region. Dozens of Yelp users have shared photographs of the theater’s unclean bathrooms and auditoriums.

The Fire Department has documented more than 180 code violations at Sandhills Cinemas since 2015. Cameron said the theater’s management was told in December that the facility would be shut down if the deficiencies were not addressed.

Many of the issues, Cameron said, had grown worse by the time officials conducted a follow-up inspection in May. The theater was closed for six days while employees worked to bring the business up to code.

In an email to customers on June 1, Frank Theaters announced plans to renovate the multiplex.

“We at Frank Theaters would like to apologize for the recent temporary closing of Sandhills Stadium 10 and any inconveniences this may have caused,” the company wrote. “We are proud to announce a multi-million-dollar renovation of Sandhills Stadium will begin this year.”

That was not the first time the company had pledged to improve the multiplex. Bruce Frank, the chain’s former CEO, previously shared plans to expand and renovate Sandhills Cinemas in 2012.

Frank said at the time that the expansion would add three screens, an IMAX auditorium and a cafe to the facility, among other amenities. The company even partnered with a real estate investment trust in 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.”

The project never moved forward and Frank eventually parted ways with the chain.

Grievances have continued to pile up since the latest renovation effort was announced. The most recent wave of complaints stemmed from the theater’s broken air conditioning system, which Cameron said was fixed last week.

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