Two weeks before the planned May 22 opening of the new Maya Fresno 16 Cinemas complex, the massive theater looks more like a set from the upcoming disaster movie “San Andreas” than the grand salute to the classic movie theater lobby that’s envisioned for when it opens.
Frank Haffar, the president and chief operating officer of Maya Cinemas, makes his way with Indiana Jones-like stealth down dust-covered halls, through the ongoing construction that includes theaters with exposed ceilings, to the lobby. There, the long snack bar counter is in place and six Coke machines have found a home in cubbyholes to the sides. Two of the letters in the “Guest Services” sign are tilted to the left. Plastic and cardboard cover many areas to protect them from the painting still in progress.
Despite all of the work left to be done, Haffar’s confident the first new theater complex in the Fresno area to open since the 16-screen cineplex in Clovis was finished in December 2006 will be ready.
“I would say we are at 90-92% done right now,” Haffar says during a tour.
The theater complex opening comes months after the original plan to be in operation in November 2014. Haffar says that the $25 million project took longer because of the additional time needed for inspections since the theater is part of a project on Fresno State land.
Just outside the theater’s main entrance are places for restaurants and shops, but it appears none will be open until June.
This is the fourth theater complex built by Maya. The first was in 2005 in Salinas, followed by complexes in Bakersfield in 2009 and Pittsburg in 2013. Fresno’s theaters are the most expensive and elaborate in the small chain.
“We added a lot of special features here. This is the first theater where we introduce our new large format theater,” Haffar says. “It’s trademarked as the Maya MPX Premiere Cinema and it has an enhanced sound system.”
The enhanced sound will be created by the normal array of speakers along each wall. Additional speakers in the roof will add another dimension. The system is in the largest theater, which holds 370 moviegoers. The smallest theaters will seat 110. A total of 2,700 new leather seats are being added to the local movie theater world.
The extra measures are necessary because Maya will compete with established movie theaters in Fresno and Clovis. Regal Entertainment owns three first-run theaters in Fresno: UA Broadway Faire Stadium 10, Regal Manchester Stadium 16 and Edwards Fresno Stadium 22 & IMAX. The company also owns the second-run theater complex, UA Clovis Movies 8. Santa Rosa Entertainment Group owns the Sierra Vista Cinemas 16.
Haffar says Fresno was a prime location for the company’s latest theater complex because of the size of the population and the location.
“It is right off the interstate, plus there was a gap between the north and the mall,” Haffar says. “It’s also near Fresno State so we could serve the students.”
Trying to be different
One area where Maya will be looking to distinguish itself is at the snack bar.
Not only will Maya feature the standard candy and popcorn — popped in coconut oil — but you can order hot dogs, including the Angus Quarter Pounder, specially baked pizza, pretzels and the signature Maya Rock U Chili Bowl that features Fritos, chili and melted cheese. The Maya & Gold Leaf café will offer lattes, cappuccino and teas from around the world.
Snacks will be available from a concession stand that stretches 85 feet. To the left of the entrance is guest services and the manager’s office. Around the corner is a large room that can be rented by individuals. Across the lobby is a video game room.
“It’s a place to have birthday parties or other events. We also have a conference room upstairs that the public can use,” Haffar says. “There are also two rooms in the lobby where you can sit and socialize before the movie.”
That conference room is only steps away from the entrance to a balcony for one of the larger theaters in the complex. Rows of seats are separated from the rest of the movie-going public. That’s not the only specialty room. Three of the theaters have “crying rooms.” Parents of crying babies can watch the movie in a soundproof room where they can watch the movie through a wall of glass 10-by-14 feet.
Everything about the theater is big. The women’s restroom has 25 stalls. The sinks dispense water and soap and have hand driers built into each one.
Maya plans special programs, such as the screening of independent and foreign films on Wednesdays and Saturdays. These will be movies that wouldn’t get enough support for a screen for an entire week but will help satisfy the interest in smaller films by local movie buffs. There’s also a “Dollar for a Scholar” Scholarship Program where Maya matches donations made by moviegoers to provide scholarships to local students. “Maya Cares” is a free monthly outreach screening to all the young who face disabilities of any nature. There also will be an annual film festival.
“Maya wants a theater to be the canvas of a community, a gathering place, and to be used by all groups for their needs also,” says Chief Executive Officer Moctesuma Esparza.
Maya will offer tickets to the public on Fandango, as well as through www.mayacinemas.com. Haffar had not set admission costs at the time of the tour.
The movie complex is located next to Highway 168 as well as the Fresno State campus. There have been concerns that those going to Save Mart Center for an event will try to get around paying a parking fee by leaving their cars at the new complex. Haffar has had so much to deal with to get the doors open on time, he’s leaving the parking concerns to the company running the remainder of the facility.
Tracy Kashian of Lance-Kashian & Company, the developer of the Campus Pointe complex, says that several options for dealing with parking issues during Save Mart events are being looked at that will include increased security and the limitations of access into the center.
“It will evolve over time to find the procedure that works the best,” Kashian says.
The crew — one of 40 subcontractors on the theater project — doesn’t skip a beat as Haffar winds his way through the theaters and into the projection booths at the top of the building. The 16 theaters get their films from one main server that can send the movie to one or several screens. The projection system is so automated that once the machines are started in the morning, no one is needed to monitor them the rest of the day.
Work will be nearly finished by the grand opening, which will feature free popcorn and $1.50 hot dogs. But, the work will never be completely finished.
“You are going to see a lot of changes and improvements as we go along,” Haffar says. “After we open, we will put up different murals and other things. We don’t just open a theater and forget about it. We are always working and adding more amenities”