The Waco Hippodrome Theatre is expanding, and the work will include installation of three more screens for first-run movies, reclining theater seats, relocation of the bar and dining room to the first floor and a new rooftop patio.
“We are getting ready to bring you the best in entertainment possibilities in Waco,” according to a statement on the expansion.
Demolition has started on a building adjacent to the Hippodrome on Eighth Street to make room for the expansion.
The theater marked its 100th anniversary in 2014 and reopened for business in November of that year after a two-year, $2.6 million renovation. Brothers Shane and Cody Turner bought the building and made it suitable for movie viewing after it closed in 2010 because of chronic financial problems.
Now the Turners will fine-tune their creation to produce a rooftop patio, event space, improved accommodation for banquets and special events, and a bar and dining room on the first floor, offering easy access from Austin Avenue.
“We will continue to offer lunch and dinner on a daily basis, as well as brunch on the weekends,” according to the statement. “We will also be opening a rooftop patio where you can dine in style and look out over downtown Waco. Both dining options will have a newly expanded menu.”
Shane Turner said Kunkel Construction, which the Turners operate, should complete the renovation by the end of the year.
Turner said he will seek Tax Increment Financing Zone money for street lighting, trees and facade work. The TIF board in December 2012 approved incentives of $424,000 for the initial Hippodrome expansion and renovation, he said.
“We will be adding three movie screens, enabling us to premiere films on five screens in the future,” according to the statement. “These screens will still have dine-in capability, but you will now be able to enjoy reclining chairs along with cinema-quality sound.”
The Hippodrome now seats 220 in its larger theater, with 135 in the balcony. Two of the new theaters will seat 80 people, and the third will seat 50, Turner said. The new theaters will give him more flexibility in moving first-run movies from the larger theaters to the smaller ones when their popularity wanes.
“When you sign a contract with a studio to show a movie, you can’t show anything else for the term of that agreement,” he said. “The expansion will allow me to comply with that arrangement and still have something premiering at all times.”
Turner said the Hippodrome plans to bring back popular Texas singer and songwriter Robert Earl Keen and to show the new “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in December. But it can’t do both without the expansion, which should be drawing to a close by then.
“Disney movies have a minimum of three weeks,” Turner said. “With ‘Star Wars,’ they want us to premiere in the big theater and hold it for four weeks on a dedicated screen. We can’t have a concert during that time.”
The jockeying between screens, the stage and contract obligations has led to inconsistent crowds.
“When it’s busy, it’s busy,” Turner said. “When we showed ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ it was insane for about four weeks.”
But the off times are difficult for employees, who need steady tips and hours.
“It’s been tough staffing this place,” he said.
Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco, which promotes the revitalization of downtown, applauded the decision by the Turners to take the Hippodrome to yet another level.
“The Hippodrome has been a cornerstone of entertainment downtown for generations,” Henderson said. “They are looking at not only how they can preserve the building, but how it can become a cornerstone for tomorrow. They are showing a willingness to adapt and become even more relevant, rise to the challenges of new media and new art. Being smart and ambitious, those are the kinds of things driving downtown forward.”
She said she enjoys watching classic films in the Hippodrome but thinks the new theaters and their modern sound technology will improve the overall movie-viewing experience.
Shane Turner said movies with a G or PG rating perform well at the Hippodrome, while those rated PG-13 sometimes flounder.
“With the new screens and the reclining seats, I believe we can get more of the PG-13 people, meaning older teens and young adults,” Turner said.