Columbus, Ohio USA
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Can Harry Potter Compete with Rick Nash?
Movie theater seeks starring role in Arena District's cast of diversions

By Dennis Fiely
July 2009 Issue

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The Arena District is best known for its bars, restaurants and two professional sports venues, Nationwide Arena and Huntington Park. But a new effort is under way to broaden the identity of the entertainment hub as a movie mecca.

“For the love of movies” is the tag line of a marketing campaign spotlighting the Arena Grand Movie Theatre, the city’s only first-run Downtown movie house that has been overshadowed by its more high-profile neighbors since it opened eight years ago.

The print, billboard and online campaign quotes familiar lines from Hollywood classics to introduce the public to the theater’s many amenities such as martinis, paninis and plush balcony recliners. It launched the campaign last month in the Short North Gazette and elsewhere by paying homage to The Graduate with this enticement for dinner, drinks and a picture: Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.

The goal is to generate the same buzz for Harry Potter’s big-screen appearance at the theater that accompanies a Blue Jackets playoff game at the arena or a Clippers winning streak at the ballpark. “We really wanted to give the theater a little personality,” said marketing director Emily Garvey of Nationwide Realty Investors, the Arena Grand’s owner.

Tucked in a plaza off Nationwide Blvd., directly across the street from the Nationwide Arena box office, the theater remains an undiscovered gem, given its location and absence of signage. “It’s hard to see us, and, if you don’t know where we are, it’s hard to find us,” conceded general manager Kara Bodle. The theater also has suffered from the public perception that parking and traffic flow in the vibrant district hinder access.

But Nationwide, which oversaw the design and construction of the Arena District, remains committed to the success of the theater, which diversifies the sports-dominated entertainment in the development with a mainstream arts option. Nationwide expressed its commitment two years ago with a $1 million expansion that increased the number of auditoriums from eight to 11 and added meeting space.

“We are a big advocate for living Downtown and working where you play,” Garvey said. “Going to the movies is one of the most popular entertainment options for people of all ages and, with the growth of Downtown housing and the Short North, it just makes sense for us to have a movie theater in the district.”

Local ownership and management (by Columbus Hospitality) set the theater apart from central Ohio’s other multiplexes. “It gives us more freedom and flexibility to really have some fun,” Garvey said, and enables the theater to customize movie going to the needs of the community without the constraints of a chain operation. For example, it stayed open late with a $5 ticket special on July 3 to give the Red, White and Boom crowd a post-fireworks alternative to sitting in traffic.

Its Bistro & Bar runs a daily lunch special that affords Downtown workers an opportunity to eat and drink in one of the auditoriums while it screens previews of 15 to 25 upcoming attractions. With its on-site food and beverage service, the theater always welcomes consumers to take their food and libations into the auditoriums.

Special events have included screenings of documentaries hosted by filmmakers such as PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley. Planning is under way to stage a Harry Potter festival in conjunction with the mid-July opening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, expected to be a summer blockbuster.

The auditoriums range in size from 43 to 447 seats and each is equipped with the latest audio-visual technology to serve business meetings. The largest auditorium rises three levels in a building design that accentuates high ceilings, rounded contours and decorative splashes of old Hollywood.

“We are not like your standard multiplex at all,” said Bodle, “from our look to our services. I’ve been in the industry for 13 years and this is totally different from any other place I’ve worked. It’s not cookie-cutter; you don’t feel like you’re in a box.”

The marketing of the theater is tied to that of the district. A concierge desk offers hotel-like services, including descriptions and directions to nearby attractions. A reference book of film synopses is available to inform consumers of content before they invest $9 for a prime-time adult ticket.

To complement its new campaign, the theater recently launched Facebook and Twitter groups through its Web site ( that invite moviegoers to post comments, ask questions and interact with each other and the staff.
And what about the parking problem? As DeNiro might say, Forget about it. Even on game nights, $1 spaces are allotted for moviegoers in the attached Marconi garage. “It’s just as easy to park here as it is at any suburban theater,” said Garvey, who encouraged theater patrons to ignore those $10 special-event parking signs.

Ownership is convinced that once people experience the unusual features of the Arena Grand, they will become repeat customers. It’s the only multiplex in town where Rocky Balboa can settle into a reserved balcony seat and say to his date, Yo Adrian, do you want a martini with your popcorn?

Visit or call 614-469-5000 for showtimes, tickets, directions, and reservations.

© 2009 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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