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COMO 8 THEATERS LIKELY TO CLOSE

Cheektowaga's Appletree Business Park is apparently on the verge of losing the AMC Como 8 Theatres, the last remaining tenant from its days as the Como Park Mall.

Sources in the local cinema community said this week that the long-time movie house, one of two AMC-run multiplexes in the Buffalo market, will close its doors later this fall.

Brenda Noble, a Kansas City-based AMC spokeswoman, said the company has not made a closure announcement, but acknowledged the theater chain is in the process of shutting a number of its smaller facilities to focus on its highly successful megaplex format.

"All of our multiplexes are under review, but the Como 8 remains open and we have no announcement at this time," Ms. Noble said.

AMC, which also operates the Maple Ridge 8 on Maple Road in Amherst, has disclosed plans to shut as many as 450 of its multiplex facilities. Those theaters range in size from eight to as many as 16 screens.

In the first quarter of its current fiscal year, it closed 20 theaters, leaving 135 screens dark. Meanwhile, the company has opened three new megaplexes, with a total of 84 screens. AMC is also constructing a 125,000-square-foot, 25-screen megaplex in New York City's Times Square.

In releasing first-quarter financial results in mid-August, AMC Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Peter Brown credited the focus on megaplex theaters for the company's record earnings. He noted that attendence at the company's megaplex facilities was 52 percent higher than at its old-style multiplexes.

Como 8, which has operated as a "second run" movie house for the last decade, was the area's first multiscreen theater to switch to the discount format. It remains the only discount cinema in the Cheektowaga/Lancaster area, with tickets priced at $1.50 for all shows, and $1 movie specials on Wednesday.

The rumored closure of the Como 8 would leave a 27,000-square-foot vacancy at the Cheektowaga mall-turned-business park, that possibility is not causing panic with Appletree's management company, Ciminelli Development Co. Inc.

Jim Dentinger, vice president of leasing for the Buffalo company, said he would expect the gap to be filled quickly.

"Our long-term plans have always called for converting the theaters to office space if the opportunity arose, so that's how we'll proceed if they do indeed pull out," Dentinger said. "We're always looking for more space for existing and new tenants."

Evidence of demand for space at Appletree is this week's announcement that Bell Atlantic will lease an additional 28,000-square-feet of office space at the business park. The telecommunications company will add 200 workers to its staff at Appletree to support new high-speed Internet products.

The former Como Mall has undergone an evolution from traditional retail venue, to a mix of retail and office space, to a successful business park format over the past 15 years. While the cinemas have not fit the facility's tenant profile for many years, they've represented a "different, but workable marriage," according to Dentinger.

"They don't directly support or serve our tenant base, but that hasn't been a problem because the businesses generally operate during the day and the theaters are open at night. There was no conflict."

If the screens at the Como 8 do go dark as expected, it will mark the second time in the past five years that an AMC theater in Cheektowaga has closed. In 1995, the AMC Holiday 6 on Union Road was demolished to make way for the Union Consumer Square retail center.

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