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Seattle's Regal Meridian theater closes amid an evolving movie culture

caption: Seattle's Regal Meridian movie theater, shown here, is slated to close in February.
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Seattle's Regal Meridian movie theater, shown here, is slated to close in February.
KUOW Photo/Dyer Oxley

Seattle's Regal Meridian movie theater is slated to close in February.

Regal Cinema's parent company, Cineworld, filed for bankruptcy last September. The company is now closing 39 theaters across the United States, including Seattle's Regal Meridian on Seventh Avenue and Pike Street.

“I think we'll see another theater, or theaters, or other ways to experience cinema, reemerge downtown," said Jon Scholes, CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association.

Scholes says he is seeing increases in people coming to experience theater and art galleries downtown. He says the theater's closure is more a reflection of the bankruptcy troubles at Cineworld than people's desire to see films in downtown Seattle.

The absence of Regal Meridian leaves a 16-screen void in downtown Seattle, which Scholes speculates will be seen as an opportunity for a new theater operation to set up shop.

"It might look a little different than what we are used to seeing in a traditional movie theater," he said. "I think the experience that consumers are looking for, with higher end food and beverage, maybe the scale of the theater is different — I think there is an opportunity there to provide a different kind of offering."

Some change in movie culture is something that Tom Mara, executive director of the Seattle International Film Festival, predicts as well.

SIFF operates three theaters in Seattle's Capitol Hill, Uptown, and Seattle Center. Mara notes that the modern film scene is different. People can watch movies on their phones now, for example.

"How the studios, distributors are working with theaters has changed as well," Mara said. "We are seeing more cases of films playing a shorter run before they go to a [streaming] platform ... we do know this is a time of change."

Mara says the Regal Meridian closure is "really unfortunate," and it will have a negative "affect on the vibrancy of the Seattle film ecosystem." Still, he doesn’t believe it will have a larger effect on Seattle’s film industry, as a whole.

Mara says that people may be more interested in film than they’ve ever been according to submissions to SIFF’s film festival, and growing audience numbers at its theaters.

“We've got 5,000 films that have been submitted to be considered for the film festival, more films than we've ever received for submission," Mara said. "So that’s kind of a clue there.”

He also notes that SIFF theaters have seen an increase in attendance.

“We are seeing our audience growing, coming back," he said. "It's not at pre-Covid levels, but we're getting closer to that.”

KUOW Dyer Oxley contributed to this report.

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