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It's almost showtime for new state-of-the-art Sidney movie theatre; three screens in condo building

324 seats and three screens scheduled to open by end of September
Theatre operator Sandy Oliver visits the site of the new three-screen Star Cinema in Sidney, expected to start showing films this fall. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Sandy Oliver is counting the days.

By the end of September, the operator of Sidney’s beloved Star Cinema hopes to start rolling the films in a state-of-the-art facility.

The expanded Star Cinema will anchor the ground floor of the five-storey, 45-unit Cameo condominium building at Third Street and Sidney Avenue and will have 324 seats in front of three screens.

Seat configurations are still being worked out for the 7,250-square-foot layout, but initial plans are calling for one 153-seat theatre, another with 111 seats and a smaller one with 60 seats — as well as a large lobby and concession area.

The two-screen Star Cinema, which had opened in 1998, closed in December 2019 for redevelopment of the site for the Cameo building, and was later demolished.

The new theatres will have 16-foot ceilings, a four-foot increase from the old Star Cinema, as well as sloped floors and seating on risers for better viewing, and there will be increased space for wheelchairs and mobility aids.

“I’m really looking forward to opening the doors,” Oliver said last week as she took her first tour of the space. Digital projectors haven’t yet been installed and the area is still a shell, but some tile work is starting and counters and rugs are being installed.

Oliver expects things to start moving quickly, pending final occupancy permits.

She said she’s grateful the community has embraced the Star Cinema and given the theatre such widespread support — both with ticket sales and fundraising over the past two decades. Sidney supporters raised about $185,000 to allow Oliver to buy digital projectors, which theatres now need to run movies.

“We are proud to be a community theatre, and we feel very fortunate to receive what feels like constant appreciation from our loyal customers.”

A 78-seat temporary location was established while developers Casman Properties started to work on the Third Street site in 2019. But the temporary spot in the former Buy and Sell location — set up and financed by Casman Properties — was hindered by the restrictions of COVID-19 and operated sporadically from January 2020 until closing last March.

Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith said there’s a buzz around the seaside town now that the Cameo building and theatre are nearing completion.

“The Star Cinema has been a real gem in our community for over 20 years, and there are a lot of people excited it’s going to open soon,” the mayor said. “I saw Sandy not too long ago and she was rubbing her hands in anticipation.”

Oliver’s love of showing films goes back to her childhood operating classroom projectors and into her adult working life, where she showed films to residents of a Vancouver transition house.

She trained as a projection operator at the Salt Spring Cinema in 1994, and later managed it. In 1998, Oliver and her sister, Carolyn Lewis, opened the Star Cinema in Sidney with support from friends, family and the community. Lewis died in 2012, but Oliver carried on and said she still receives warm comments about her sister and their movie-theatre legacy.

The new Star Cinema will run new-release movies, but she hopes to keep the smallest theatre open for special and topical films that can involve discussions and Q&A opportunities. She also hopes to run matinee films and movies for all ages.

All three theatres will have new screens and upgraded ­digital sound systems.

Having three screens is essential to the ongoing viability of the cinema, said Oliver, and increases flexibility to schedule a variety of special events, such as showings during the Victoria Film Festival, and host more fundraisers for charities and community groups.

It also allows the cinema to offer more low-cost matinees for families.

Casman Properties has entered into a long-term lease with Oliver.

Tony Zarsadias, founder and chief executive of Island Realm Real Estate, which is selling the condominium units for Casman Properties, said 43 of the 45 units have been sold, and he expects the remaining penthouse and one-bedroom/den to go soon.

He anticipates occupancy for some of the first buyers in either August or September, saying about half are from the Sidney area.

Zarsadias said Casman’s architects took extra steps in acoustic engineering and sound-proofing in the theatre, and the entire building has a Hollywood theme, from its name, Cameo, to colour schemes.

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