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Overland Park’s Dickinson movie theater chain changes hands

Overland Park-based Dickinson Theatres has been acquired by Liberty-based B&B Theaters. Officials said remodeling and rebranding the Dickinson movie houses, including Westglen in Shawnee, under the B&B name is scheduled to begin within weeks.
Overland Park-based Dickinson Theatres has been acquired by Liberty-based B&B Theaters. Officials said remodeling and rebranding the Dickinson movie houses, including Westglen in Shawnee, under the B&B name is scheduled to begin within weeks. SPECIAL TO THE STAR

Two long-standing theater chains based in the Kansas City area have completed a business deal in which B&B Theatres acquired Dickinson Theatres.

The combination creates the ninth largest movie house chain in the United States, with 408 screens at 50 locations. Eleven of the locations are within the Kansas City market.

Remodeling and rebranding the Dickinson movie houses under the B&B name is scheduled to begin within weeks, B&B officials said. Specific changeover information will become available at bbtheatres.com as the transitions occur.

B&B, a private, family-owned company based in Liberty, has operated 239 screens at 35 theater locations in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Florida and Texas. Besides the Liberty Cinema 12 and two drive-ins, the company’s area theaters are in Grain Valley, Harrisonville and Lexington, Mo.

Dickinson, also privately owned and based in Overland Park, has operated 169 screens at 15 theater locations in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona. Its area movie houses include the Westglen, Eastglen, Northglen and Palazzo 16.

The purchase price was not revealed.

The deal brings together two theater companies with at least 90-year histories. The first Dickinson house opened in 1920 in Manhattan, Kan. The first theater opened by one of the B&B founders was in 1924 in Salisbury, Mo.

Bobbie Bagby, B&B vice president of marketing, said none of the acquired theaters is considered direct geographic competition to existing B&B sites. There will, however, be some reassessment of staffing as the transformations to B&B properties take place, she said.

Ron Horton, owner and president of Dickinson, will serve in a consulting capacity during the transition but will have no further corporate role at B&B, she said.

The Bills and Bagby families — of the B&B name — have been longtime friends with Horton and others at the Dickinson company.

“I worked with several members of the Dickinson family over the years on Show-A-Rama and other industry committees, and they were always a well-respected family and company,” said Elmer Bills, B&B chairman. “My wife, Amy, and I are honored to have their theaters join our family of theaters.”

B&B President Bob Bagby said his company was “excited to grow our footprint, especially in our hometown of Kansas City.”

Horton, who weathered a 2012 Dickinson bankruptcy reorganization after buying the company, said in a release, “I am happy that a local Kansas City company purchased Dickinson, as it ensures that several of my key employees will retain their jobs. Bob (Bagby) and I have discussed a possible deal for several years, and I wish everyone at B&B much success.”

The Dickinson chain had been an industry leader in converting to digital projection from film reels, starting in 2008. Those conversions came at substantial expense, an estimated $85,000 per screen at the time.

Those costs, coupled with a slump in movie attendance during the recession, led to the 2012 bankruptcy filing, which caused Dickinson to shed some properties. The chain listed $13.4 million in liabilities and $21.1 million in assets at the time.

That was the second reorganization for Dickinson, which had filed in 2000 after unsuccessfully trying to renegotiate some costly leases. That was the year the Dickinson family sold the company to three of its top managers.

Bobbie Bagby said B&B will continue its theater upgrades, installing more reclining seats in current theaters. The company also plans to replace its existing Liberty Cinema 12 and corporate office with a new flagship location.

Earlier this year, the B&B chain bought the Twin Drive-In in Independence and the I-70 Drive-In in Kansas City. The two drive-ins were going to be closed until B&B invested in upgrading them with digital projectors and other remodeling. They opened for the season in May.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com.

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