Frank Theatres plans to stay in the Model City

Matthew Lane • Feb 2, 2017 at 8:05 AM

KINGSPORT – Frank Theatres may be leaving the Kingsport Town Center next month, but they may be sticking around the Model City for a second run.

Bruce Frank, president and CEO of Frank Theatres told the Times-News the company plans to build one of its CineBowl & Grille complexes in Kingsport beginning this year.

Frank said the 60,000-square-foot complex will include 12 theater screens (including the IMAX), one of the company's branded restaurants, 16 lanes of bowling, a 50-game arcade and a theater for live performances.

“The plans for the building are done, and they'll be submitted for a building permit. Site work will start on the property almost immediately, and I think you could expect a groundbreaking in the next 30 to 60 days,” Frank said. “I think people should be very happy. You will have the only IMAX in the region.”

Frank came to Kingsport last week to visit potential sites, and though a decision on where to locate the theater has been made internally, an announcement is scheduled within the next couple of weeks.

The cost of the theater will be in excess of $10 million, and Frank said the company plans to bring three of its branded restaurants to the entire project. Frank said he thinks more retail and entertainment are also coming to the Model City.

Frank's comments come just weeks after the company and the owners of the Kingsport Town Center reached an agreement over the future of the theater in the mall.

Frank Theatres moved into the Kingsport Town Center in 2013, filling the space after Marquee Cinemas moved out with plans to build its own free-standing theater. At that time, the Kingsport Town Center was owned by Somera Capital Management.

Last June, Hull Property Group of Augusta, Ga., purchased the Kingsport Town Center and announced plans to revitalize and renovate the 40-year-old mall into more of a “fashion-type mall” catering to apparel tenants.

Then in November, HPG filed a complaint against Frank Theatres in an attempt to evict the theater company from the property. The two companies recently reached an agreement where Frank's would vacate the mall by April 30.

HPG claimed Frank's had breached its lease and had not paid rent since March 2016.

“That is a lie,” Frank said. “It was a percentage/rent management agreement and (HPG) interprets the management agreement differently than the understanding we had between the group we made the deal with and who they are. They are trying to change the structure of the deal to benefit them.”

When Somera purchased the mall in 2007 and re-branded it the Kingsport Town Center, the company announced multi-million plans to fully renovate and revitalize the aging property. Soon after, the Great Recession hit and those plans never materialized.

“When we went into the mall, we were involved with the landlord at the time Somera,

“We went into the mall on a short term management agreement to which Somera was supposed to have our new building started. We had fully designed the expansion of the theater, under their auspices, direction and promises,” Frank said. “Subsequently, Somera was in the process of negotiating with their lender. They did not have the ability to move forward and could not work out the issues with the bank at that time.”

Frank said Somera asked his company to stay on and continue, to keep the IMAX franchise and to have faith in them. But then in steps HPG as the new owners and according to Frank, HPG did not like the structure of the relationship between Frank Theatres and Somera.

“They chose to pick a fight. It's their choice and we don't agree with them. We certainly don't agree with their methods of accounting, but that will be determined by a third party arbitrator, or if it goes to court, it goes to court,” Frank said. “We're certainly not backing down from the position that we lived up to the terms of the agreement.”

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