BY TERRY FLYNN and LUCY MAY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NEWPORT -- A 20-screen cinema will join a 3-D IMAX theater as major attractions of the Newport on the Levee entertainment complex that will complement the city's new aquarium on the riverfront.
Developers of Newport on the Levee announced the 20-screen theater for first-run movies on Friday, and said Cincinnati-based Star Bank will serve as the corporate sponsor for the 400-seat IMAX theater, one of only 20, 3-D IMAX theaters in the country.
When it became clear several months ago that the IMAX theater was headed for Newport instead of Cincinnati, Cincinnati city officials conceded they had lost that fight.
But Cincinnati Economic Development Director Andi Udris said Friday that Newport's 20-screen theater announcement doesn't change Cincinnati's plans to pursue a multi-screen theater for downtown.
"Many people perceive that these are actually two separate markets," Mr. Udris said.
Just last month, Mr. Udris said Boston-based General Cinema Theatres was interested in locating a multi-screen theater at the old McAlpin's site on Fourth Street downtown.
Having the theaters in Newport is actually good for the whole region, said David Ginsburg, senior vice president of Downtown Cincinnati Inc., the downtown marketing group.
A model of the Newport on the Levee project shows the IMAX Star Bank theatre and aquarium on the left.
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"I don't view Newport and Covington as competition," he said. "I think this is just more positive energy, and I'm excited about it."
Ron Roberts, president of Project Partners Inc., the development and consulting firm that will own the IMAX theater, said plans for the remainder of Newport on the Levee include restaurants, shops and other entertainment features.
"This is going to a tremendous asset not only to Newport but to downtown Cincinnati and the entire metropolitan area," Mr. Roberts said.
The anchor for the entire three-block-long project, running from the Taylor-Southgate Bridge to Saratoga Street, is the $40 million aquarium scheduled to open in May.
The entire project, including a 2,000-car underground parking garage, is expected to cost in the area of $150 million. The estimated cost of the 3-D IMAX theater is an initial construction figure of $8.5 million and a total project cost of about $12.5 million.
The 3-D IMAX, adjacent to the aquarium, will be very similar to the IMAX and aquarium combination that has been in operation in Chattanooga, Tenn., since 1996.
A 3-D IMAX theater can have a screen up to eight feet high and, with the use of special glasses, projects the viewer into the picture. It uses a frame 10 times larger than a 35mm frame and provides extreme clarity and sharpmess of image.
The 3-D IMAX planned for Newport on the Levee will not be the same as the Robert D. Lindner Family Omnimax theater at the Museum Center in Cincinnati, which uses a domed screen and is not 3-D.
"The local and state governments have worked so closely with us in Kentucky to make this project happen," said Barry Rosenberg, vice president of Steiner and Associates of Columbus, Ohio, the principal developer for the project.
Steiner and Associates, with help from the city, obtained a 10-year state Tourism Development Act tax abatement, allowing the developers to save some $35 million during the 10 years.
Mr. Rosenberg said the 3-D IMAX theater will open in summer 2000.
"The remainder of the attractions at Newport on the Levee will open in the fall or winter of 2000," he said. "We're talking to a number of prospective tenants, and we expect all the other entertainment attractions to open at the same time."
Richard Davis, executive vice president of Star Banc Corporation, emphasized that all the attractions at Newport on the Levee will draw visitors regardless of weather.
Steiner and Associates also plans to build a hotel just north of Newport on the Levee, in the block between Saratoga and Washington.
David Lovelace, Kentucky deputy secretary of tourism, said the aquarium and Newport on the Levee projects are another indication that "this region will get more and more attention."
"This will not only have an impact on the quality of life in Newport, but on the entire area in terms of tourism and income," he said.