The Screenland Crossroads has proven to be more of a concept than a location.
Since founding the theater in 2004, owner Butch Rigby has added Screenland venues at Crown Center and in North Kansas City. But his original Screenland Crossroads (1656 Washington St.) closed in May after a landlord dispute involving a rent hike.
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“I have more fun building them than I have running them,” Rigby says. “If all I ever do is build more Screenlands, I’m living right.”
So Rigby is readying construction on a new Screenland Crossroads at 1701 McGee St. The brown brick building adorned with murals (including a Kansas City Star-themed one) is the site of former car dealerships.
“My next-door neighbor tells me in 1956 he bought an Impala convertible there,” Rigby says.
Rigby has concocted several theater design options.
One is influenced by a visit he made to a Frank Lloyd Wright home. Another is an attempt to emulate a private viewing experience in a large-scale structure.
“Every single thing about our theaters is going to reflect what we’ve always tried to do: If you’re sitting in a chair and resting comfortably, you should have a good look at the screen. Don’t want anybody turning their necks or stretching. I don’t want their legs bumping. It’s a design that makes people want to sit and watch a movie,” he says.
The plan is to house two screens. Part of the building will be dedicated to an event space that also features a large outdoor patio area. Rigby is including office space for his Screenland’s Famous Popcorn, which is introducing kettle and caramel varieties along with its original butter flavor for retail sales. The south half will be leased to other businesses.
It is yet to be determined whether the venue will be called Screenland Crossroads or the New Screenland Crossroads.
The theater is slated to open in June 2014. It will be managed by Adam Roberts and Brent Miller, who run Screenland Armour at 408 Armour Road in North Kansas City.
“The new Crossroads will differ (from Armour) in that we will not be tied down to two- or three-week runs of first-run movies,” Miller says. “We will be playing a lot of retro, indie and art films. We are going to have a lot more draft beer options and a much larger food menu with quite a few options. We are hoping to have some live acts, maybe some comedians and musicians more often.”
This additionally means a return of the popular retro arcade.
“Not to brag or anything, but I do have the high score right now on Ms. Pac-Man,” Miller says. “Of course, Adam will probably try to dispute that.”
A decade ago, Rigby sought to buy Screenland Cafe at 18th and Wyandotte streets. That deal fell through, but the name stuck. He sold the original Screenland Crossroads building in 2007. The California owners eventually lost the building to the bank, which then sold the note to a mortgage-backed security in New York. Most recent Screenland proprietor Jason Chaffee couldn’t afford the rent increase to $18 a square foot, so May 17 marked the theater’s swansong.
“As far as I know there is no theater. It’s gutted. It’s gone. It looks like the garage it was when I started. It breaks my heart,” Rigby says.
“I don’t begrudge the company out of New York. To them it’s an asset, and they want to get the most rent out of it,” he says. “But the theater was always the reason that building was fun and lively. It was a communal experience.”
A decade ago, Screenland introduced the novel theater concepts of reclining leather chairs, alcoholic beverages and expanded food menus. This represented a far cry from the rickety seats and stale popcorn of the compartmentalized multiplexes.
“Now a lot of people are doing those things, and that’s great. It’s very apparent to everyone from Screenland to AMC, you’ve got to have marvelous accommodations if you’re going to make people get out from behind the television set,” Rigby says.
That strategy includes the Alamo Drafthouse, the Texas-based theater chain that took over the AMC Mainstreet, 1400 Main St., last year.
“We’re friendly competitors. I have great admiration for (Alamo founder) Tim League. That guy has got the passion for this stuff. Alamo actually went so far as to help Adam and Brent with a fundraiser to convert Armour to digital. That says a lot about them,” he says.
Despite being in competition with Alamo and other local mainstays such as the Fine Arts Theatre Group and Tivoli Cinemas, Rigby believes these indie operators uphold a shared goal.
“We work with all of them to build a better art-film audience in Kansas City,” he says.