In transforming the old Lefont Sandy Springs movie theater to the new Springs Cinema & Taphouse, owner Brandt Gully wanted to make it look nothing like the cookie-cutter chain theaters.

So he put the bar and restaurant in the center of the lobby area as you enter the building.

“We wanted it to feel like this is the community’s place of choice for movies or even just hanging out,” Gully said. “It’s not uncommon these days for movie theaters to have a bar or a bar component, but it’s usually tucked into an existing space or a little bit of an afterthought. That’s clearly not the case.

“The goal was to walk in and that be the focal point and really be inviting, whether it was the bar counter or the lounge seating area where people can hang out before and after the movie. We are even seeing people come just to watch a game on TV or socialize with friends and not see a movie, or we’ve had people rent out auditoriums for business meetings. So it was very important to be community-feeling and different.”

Gully talked about the changes he’s made to the facility, Sandy Springs’ only movie theater, during an interview Monday, one day before it hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony and nearly two weeks after it held a VIP grand reopening party.

The celebration comes after the completion of an 11-month, $2.5 million renovation project that had been planned at least since Gully bought the 30-plus-year-old theater from George Lefont in November 2017. Gully, an east Cobb resident who also works as a movie theater consultant, struck the deal after spending years working with Lefont.

The project had to start in March, following the theater hosting part of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival the previous month. Gully said he’d hoped to have the work finished by Christmas but was delayed due to custom-built options as well as issues encountered during construction.

“One of the reasons it took so long was I couldn’t get there on the design I wanted. I went through three designers before I finally found something that clicked,” he said, adding the first two designers hired were movie theater designers whose plans were too similar to the chain cinemas. “… I wanted it to look like me, to have my touches throughout. … (For example), there’s 44 movie scene photos (above the bar/restaurant) from my 44 favorite movies.”

The theater, which has eight film auditoriums, was open throughout the renovation process, and though patrons may have been annoyed by the distraction, Gully said he also wanted them to feel they were part of it. The redevelopment was needed since some of the auditoriums had no air conditioning and some customers had opted to drive to more modern theaters farther away because of the state it was in.

The redevelopment project had two phases, with the first phase including repairing anything that was broken in the theater at least temporarily until they could be replaced. Gully also had each auditorium gutted, overhauling four at a time, to add new flooring, walls, lighting, screens, sound systems and luxury recliner seats that are the only ones in Georgia that are heated.

“The heated recliners are probably the biggest thing most people pay attention to. … It was the biggest expense,” he said. “It’s all about providing that premium experience to your customers and making them as comfortable as possible. It’s obviously been well received. … We wanted to differentiate ourselves from the others.”

The bathrooms were also upgraded during Phase 1. The second phase focused on gutting and redeveloping the lobby, concession area and building façade.

“We took out the old ticket window and replaced (it) with a glass storefront, new signage,” Gully said. “Then we added a full bar and kitchen. So why is that important? The common theme here is we really wanted this to be a neighborhood feeling venue.”

He also upgraded the food options to offer more than just typical movie theater hot dogs and nachos. With the theater now fully reopened, Gully said he hopes to host special events on a regular basis (it’s hosting A Night At The Oscars fundraiser for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Sunday) and is also renting out auditoriums and the lobby to organizations and businesses interested in having events or meetings there.

Before and after its renovation was completed, he heard stories from diehard customers or those who returned after avoiding the theater for several years.

“The fun part is now seeing people’s reaction and hearing their response, whether it’s customers who have been coming here for decades and seeing it go into disrepair and wondering if their beloved neighborhood cinema was on the brink of closing. They now see that there’s a commitment to just the opposite, to … making it significantly better,” Gully said.

One of those customers is Sandy Springs resident Eleanor Russo, who has been going to movies there for over 10 years. She said the new Springs Cinema is “virtually unrecognizable” compared to its predecessor.

“It’s great,” said Russo, who goes to movies there with her husband Jerry, friends or even by herself. “We’ve always loved that theater simply because of its location. We are able to walk to the theater, and it’s surrounded by our favorite restaurants including Hearth, il Giallo, Bishoku and Canton Cooks. Now with the ability to get your ticket online and reserve your seat before you go, it takes a lot of that stress out of rushing to get to the theater and waiting in line. We love the new seats. They also have a great selection of wines.

“I just feel a real sense of family and familiarity whenever we go there.”

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