Emagine back in development discussions

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Upscale movie theater company Emagine Entertainment once again is considering a west downtown complex, the Times-Herald has learned.

Local businessman Hakim Fakhoury in a recent interview said that Emagine officials have shown a rekindled interest in building a theater in the city after cooling on the project earlier this year.

Fakhoury, the principal of Dearborn Village Partners Limited Liability Co., has been courting the boutique film house for the better part of five years to be part of a proposed development project that would encompass most of the city block between Howard and Military. As recently as last year, Fakhoury had a letter of intent for a deal from Emagine founder and Chief Executive Officer Paul Glantz.

As changes to DVP’s overall proposal – which have included various iterations of housing and retail components – and general uncertainty about the project’s future accumulated, Emagine pursued another opportunity in Royal Oak, Fakhoury said.

“They wanted to come here, but they couldn’t keep waiting on what was going to happen with the rest of DVP,” Fakhoury said.

But with the Royal Oak complex now open, Emagine is eyeing Dearborn again. And this time, it won’t necessarily be contingent on what happens with the rest of Fakhoury’s development.

“We are currently evaluating the possibility of doing a stand-alone, island-type model where it isn’t dependent on (the DVP development),” Glantz said Friday in an interview. “Really, Michigan Avenue by default meets our criteria, which is a high-traffic, retail area.”

Emagine consistently is ranked as the best theater chain in the area, offering luxury seating sections in some auditoriums, as well as reserved seating and other high-end amenities such as valet parking. The company’s theaters offer full alcohol service, and some of them contain additional attractions like bowling centers.

While all previous discussions had the proposed Dearborn theater tabbed for the former Bally’s Vic Tanny building owned by Fakhoury, Glantz said other options now are on the table. One was to repurpose some portion of the sparsely occupied mixed-use buildings in the West Village Commons development.

“It may be possible to build and retrofit the buildings across the street (from Bally’s)” Glantz said. “If we can derive value from buildings that are existing, but aren’t really being utilized, that would have probably greater value than building from scratch today.”

Currently Emagine is in the process of conducting market studies on the surrounding area. If the due diligence phase tracks like it did in Royal Oak, it could take up to 18 months before the company comes to a determination on the project, Glantz said.

But like most any development project in economically depressed southeast Michigan, it will require some adroit planning and creative financing. Glantz said some form of public-private partnership likely would be needed to get a deal struck.

“I don’t think the number is going to work if it’s purely based on private sector cash,” he said. “In candor, I was hoping that (a financing incentive plan) would be put together (by the city) with a larger overall development proposal like Hakim was doing. If that doesn’t happen, it’s back to the drawing board”

City officials did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.