At four stories tall and seven stories wide, the new B&B Theatres Liberty 12 ScreenX is one of the the largest in the world. The largest for that type of screen, the theater chain claims.
The screen, one of four in the United States, is the centerpiece of B&B’s flagship theater opening to the public on Thursday, July 12.
“I used to have very simple needs: I just want to go, I want to sit, I want to be comfortable and I want to enjoy my movie,” said Paul Farnsworth, B&B’s director of public relations. “But I’m finding as B&B continues to innovate that there are things perhaps that I was missing out on that I didn’t even know that I was.”
The theater, off Interstate 35 near Liberty Commons, replaces the previous location that was torn down in 2015 and is now an Academy Sports. Based in Liberty, the family-owned B&B operates 50 locations with 400 screens across seven states. It’s the seventh largest theater chain in the U.S.
“We’ve never had any doubt that (president and CEO) Bob Bagby and the B&B Theatres has always been committed to an outstanding theater experience in Liberty,” said Liberty Mayor Lyndell Brenton.
With the theater, a revamped downtown square and the couple dozen shops in Liberty Commons, Brenton said there’s been “quite a renaissance” in the city within the last several years.
B&B, like Leawood-based AMC and other chains, is working hard to lure customers away from their home TV screens and into theater seats.
In Liberty’s ScreenX auditorium, the main projector shows a movie on the largest screen while 10 more projectors — five on each side wall, show the same scenes from other angles, creating an immersive, 270-degree experience.
The system is as wide as an official IMAX screen (like the now defunct screen at the Kansas City Zoo) but one story shorter.
“It blew my socks off,” Farnsworth said about a demo he had seen.
Workers had to cut out part of the wall to get the towering screen inside. Of the new theater’s 12 auditoriums, Farnsworth said, the smallest screen is bigger than the largest screen from the previous theater.
Like its refurbished theaters in Shawnee and Lee’s Summit, the new Liberty theater offers an area for children to play inside one of the auditoriums for 30 minutes before a movie starts.
Farnsworth said there was initial concern about kids actually getting back in their seats.
“If we tell them to stop playing and come rake leaves or something, they wouldn’t be excited about it,” Farnsworth said. But since they get to watch a movie after playtime, they typically settle down.
He expects more of these play areas to be added to B&B theaters, especially new builds.
The new theater also includes an MX4D auditorium, where moviegoers must be 40 inches or taller. That’s because it’s more of a ride than a theater.
The seats move in sync with the action on screen. Sensory effects, like little bursts of air, fog, water, even snow, put the viewer in the moment. You wouldn’t watch a movie like “Book Club” there, Farnsworth said. Movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road” or “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” do well in MX4D.
“Really, it’s all about creating an experience for everybody,” Farnsworth said. “The people who want to watch a movie in MX4D are like, ‘This is silly, I would never want to go to screenPLAY.’ Well, of course you wouldn’t because you don’t have small kids. But if you do, this has been created just for you.”
In addition, the theater’s Lyric auditorium is a tribute to B&B’s first theater, built in Salisbury, Mo., in 1924. The wall sconces outside came from that theater. Just like the first theater, it’s a classier arrangement, with a wood finish on the floor, trays for drinks and seating for 38 people.
In all the auditoriums, guests can bring in drinks from the theater’s bar and to-go food like hamburgers and pizza. An on-site restaurant, Johnnie’s Jazz Bar and Grille, will host live music and once-a-week trivia nights when it opens in a few weeks.
All auditoriums offer heated electric leather recliners.
“With the size of this theater, with the uniqueness of this theater, I think it’s going to have a significant impact of drawing people from outside of Liberty,” Brenton said.
B&B received a sales tax exemption for construction materials from the Liberty City Council last year for the $19.5 million project.
“We’ve done that for other significant developments in our city,” Brenton said. “It’s not unique to B&B but it’s also not something we do for everybody. ... We believe it’s a very good investment for our city and for the people of Liberty.”
Last year, Liberty completed a $5 million renovation project on Liberty Square. That facelift brought wider sidewalks, improved water and sewer lines and a modernized historic area.
The ribbon-cutting for the theater is at 3 p.m. Thursday, with both the Northland and Liberty chambers of commerce. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. for the first showing at 4 p.m.