Developer: Fondren theater survey results outpace expectations

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Published: August 9,2013

Tags: Capri Theater, David Pharr, Fondren, Jason Watkins

The results of a survey conducted by a Millsaps College marketing class geared toward a proposed theater in Fondren were better than expected, one of the developers said earlier this week.

Jason Watkins is part of the group that wants to restore the old Pix/Capri Theater in the historic neighborhood’s business district.

The Capri Theater in Fondren.

The Capri Theater in Fondren.

Gauging interest in the project was part of the curriculum for a graduate-level marketing class at Millsaps last spring. Watkins said he got the results in early summer, and after digesting them, came away pleased.

“We really got incredibly strong feedback. The scope of what they did is pretty amazing. They collected thousands of surveys. I guess around 2.000. The results were pretty dramatically in favor of the model we’re trying to do.”

Watkins’ group hope to turn the Pix/Capri into a dine-in theater, in which patrons can watch a movie in a restaurant-like atmosphere, complete with food and beverages.

Millsaps students broken into groups set up websites that asked basic demand questions – like how likely a respondent would be to patronize the theater – and more in-depth diagnostic questions, such as their interest in certain food and beverage offerings and their price points.

“We expected a good response, but it really far exceeded our expectations,” Watkins said. “It took the element of chance out in a lot of ways. There’s something about the Fondren area that the respondents seem to be drawn to over other areas of Jackson. I do think that gives us an advantage.”

Watkins said his group has hired a theater consultant to aid in picking an operator for the theater. “I had hoped we could have made an announcement on who that was by now, but we’re not there yet.”

Selecting an operator will help firm up timetables for the theater’s construction and opening, Watkins said.

The Pix/Capri stopped showing films in the late 1980s, and has sat mostly vacant since, with the exception of temporary tenants.

Watkins and his partner, Jackson lawyer David Pharr, intend to restore it to its original use. Knowing that, Millsaps marketing professor Dr. Penny Prenshaw decided that quantifying potential interest in the theater would be a good project for one of her graduate-level marketing classes.

“They did a pretty thorough external analysis of the movie theater industry, and then the sub-sector of the dine-ins,” Prenshaw said last spring. “There’s a significant number of models out there. The big corporate players have their own version, and then you’ve got some of the private, smaller type cinemas.”

The difference in the two is pretty basic, Crenshaw said. The corporate models generally show first-run films; the stand-alone, privately owned models show what’s called “second-run” films. For example, the award-winning “Argo,” which left theaters late last year, would be considered a second-run. Independent dine-ins also regularly show foreign films, classic films and documentaries, to go with serving as host for community-wide events like concerts and art showings. Another thing that separates independent theaters like the Pix/Capri is their customers.

Corporate theaters that show strictly first-run films generally cater to traditional movie-goers – teenagers. A lot of independents, which are likely to serve alcoholic beverages, restrict anyone under the age of 18 years.

“So it’s an interesting business model in that they’re purposely not allowing the heavy user,” Prenshaw said in April. “Nevertheless, you still have a group of heavy users that are older, in that 21 to 32 age range, who will probably be the primary target for this dine-in concept.”

Prenshaw said it was likely that her class’s survey was the first of its kind that was geared specifically toward the Pix/Capri.

“I would think maybe at some point people have thought about refurbishing the Capri for theater space, but certainly to our knowledge, this is the first that is looking at the dine-in concept.”

 

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