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Sale of Nitro movie theater surprises city leaders

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nitro city officials were surprised by the sudden change of ownership of the Great Escape theater complex.

The 12-screen complex, located near Walmart off the Cross Lanes exit of Interstate 64, is outside Nitro city limits. But Nitro Mayor Dave Casebolt said local officials and nearby property owners keep close tabs on what goes on in the area and didn't know the theater was changing hands.

"I'm up there once or twice a week, and the place is always packed," Casebolt said. He was unaware the theater had been sold until contacted by a newspaper reporter on Friday.

On Thursday, public relations officials for Regal Entertainment Group issued a two-page news release saying Regal had bought the Great Escape theater chain, which operates 25 theaters in 11 states. The Nitro theater was among those purchased.

According to media reports, Regal paid $91 million for the Great Escape chain, which operates primarily in the Midwest. Regal, headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn., operates 521 theaters in 37 states and Washington, D.C., and is the largest theater chain in the United States, according to a company news release.

"The company operates theaters in 43 of the top 50 U.S. designated market areas," the release said. "We believe that the size, reach and quality of the company's theater circuit not only provide its patrons with a convenient and enjoyable movie-going experience, but is also an exceptional platform to realize economies of scale in theater operations."

The immediate effect of the takeover was unclear on Friday. Russ Nunley, vice president of Regal Entertainment Group, said in an email message that the company was excited to be in Nitro.

"The transition started [Thursday], switching some equipment and computers to connect with Regal Entertainment Group," Nunley said. "Our theater is up and running, and for moviegoers the transition should be seamless."

Those logging on to Great Escape's Internet site on Friday were redirected to Regal's website, but the new company website did not provide show times or ticket information. Some other ticketing websites provided show time information for the former Great Escape theater, but had no provision for buying tickets.

A recorded message on the Nitro theater's telephone line said the theater was closed and expected to reopen Friday evening.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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