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The shuttered Summit Park 6 Cinema in the Town of Wheatfield is expected to reopen this spring under new ownership.

Atlanta-based Cinema Grill Systems, which specializes in converting traditional movie houses into restaurant-theater combos, is in negotiations to reopen the former General Cinema complex by the end of April. Jim Duffy, chief executive of the entertainment company, said the movie house will initially come back to life as a traditional, first-run theater.

"Our first priority is to get the lights back on and great films on the screen," Duffy said. "It's not ideal to let a theater sit dark for longer than six months, so we'd really like to get going."

The Summit Park 6 Cinema, located near the Summit Park Mall, closed in early October as the financially troubled General Cinema Corp. trimmed its stable of movie houses. Benchmark Development, the Amherst company that owns the 16-year-old theater building, said General Cinema still controls use of the theaters and would handle any subleasing activity.

The Summit Park 6 is expected to keep its name for the near future, but its new operators would introduce their own Entertainment Film Works name within a year. Long-term plans could include converting the standard six-screen theater to one of the company's "dinner-and-a-movie" format locations, according to Duffy.

The Atlanta company is negotiating for similar deals at two former General Cinema facilities in suburban Rochester, according to a representative of Wilmorite Development, which owns the now-empty theaters at Marketplace Mall and Pittsford Plaza.

Cinema Grill got its start in the mid-1970s with a single theater in Orlando, Fla., that offered the unheard-of combination of movies and meals. Brothers Jim and John Duffy now operate more than a dozen of the quirky Cinema Grills, as well as 25 traditional Entertainment Film Works complexes in 18 states. If the Rochester and Wheatfield deals are finalized, they would give the company its first New York addresses.

The fiscal woes that are continuing to plague the country's giant movie chains -- including General Cinema, Regal, Loews and AMC -- create the ideal business conditions for the Duffys, who snap up closed movie houses to expand their entertainment stable.

"The worse it is for them, the better it is for us," said Jim Duffy, who predicts there will be as many as 1,500 idle cinemas waiting to be redeveloped by the end of 2001.

"I see us adding seven to 10 theaters a month for the foreseeable future."

At theaters the company overhauls to the Cinema Grill format, food and movies have equal billing. Patrons dine on gourmet pizzas and upscale sandwiches washed down with a microbrew beer or glass of wine, while watching a hit movie with friends or family.

In a typical Cinema Grill retrofit, the company will eliminate one screen of a complex to make room for kitchen facilities. Other work includes leveling theater floors to tiered platforms to accommodate cabaret-style seating.

The company pegs average conversion costs at $250,000 per screen, with the resulting food-service sales at around $500,000 annually. Because the business counts on food and beverage sales as its prime revenue source, it keeps ticket prices in the $3.50 to $4.50 range.

Cinema Grill's movie fare is classified as "intermediate-run" movies -- films that were first-run draws a month or two earlier. Some locations also run lunch programs, entertaining diners with broadcasts of CNN, ESPN or soap operas on the big screen, others employ television broadcasts of high-profile sports events to create special weeknight and weekend events.

The theaters are also popular children's party venues.

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