Movie house investors have bigger dreams in Northfield - Ocean City Sentinel: News

Movie house investors have bigger dreams in Northfield

By CRAIG D. SCHENCK/Sentinel staff | Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2019 11:06 am

NORTHFIELD — Town Square Entertainment — the team behind Harbor Square Theatre in Stone Harbor and Ventnor Square Theatre in Ventnor — is bringing its brand of makeover to Northfield’s former Tilton 9 Theater.

And the $1.1 million investment may be just the beginning, as the partners hope to include a restaurant with liquor like at their other two theater properties.

During a tour of the facility Wednesday, partner Clint Bunting shared his visions for the future — both short term and long term. 

Outside, the marquee is blank, indicating nothing is showing. But inside there is plenty to see, as the place is a hive activity, with busy workers installing carpeting and new seats, painting, upgrading electrical systems, plumbing and more.

The entire lobby has been gutted to make way for a new concession stand and ticket counter, both manned and automated. The seats have been removed from seven of the theaters to make way for full recliners. The eighth, the former IMAX theater, is keeping its upgraded leather seats but will be getting a new sound system and projector.

“We have a system that is better than IMAX; it is going to be better sound and better picture,” Bunting said, calling it TSX, or Town Square Experience.

“The motto will be ‘immerse yourself.’ It will be an immersive, all encompassing experience,” he said.

Jennifer Hasson, a manager who has been with the company since 2016, said Bunting and co-owners Scot Kauffman and Brett Denafo are aiming for an opening date of April 12.

Bunting said the company signed a lease agreement with Max Gurwicz Enterprises, which owns the building, and proceeded to renovate the property. 

“They asked us to come in and partner with them on it. They had heard about our presentation down there and how we like to do it,” Bunting said.

This all happened after the former theater operator, Frank Theatres, failed to pay rent at the property, eventually filing for bankruptcy.

Bunting, the designer and builder, and Kaufman, the CFO, are both from Delaware, while Denafo, who owns Stone Harbor Bar & Grill adjacent to the theater in that town, is from Northfield.

Bunting and Kaufman own the Harbor Square Mall in Stone Harbor and were Denafo’s landlords before they became partners. Bunting said the Harbor Square Theatre is adjacent to Stone Harbor Bar & Grill, which allowed the liquor license to be used for the restaurant, the Watering Hull upstairs, the theater and the Harbor Burger Bar.

“Law in New Jersey allows for you to expand the liquor license if you own the property next door,” Bunting said. “It’s a really great way to grow the business and to utilize the liquor license.”

He said he wants to do the same thing in Northfield, but there currently are only two liquor licenses in town. However, he said he thinks that when the Cresson Hill apartments are open and occupied, the city will be able to offer a third liquor license for sale. 

According to the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, “the number of licenses to sell alcohol for consumption on a licensed premises (restaurants and bars) and to sell alcohol for off premise consumption (packaged goods) within a municipality is determined based upon the population. A municipality may issue one consumption license for every 3,000 of its population.”

The 2010 census showed there were 8,624 residents in the city, and Cresson Hill would have 266 units if fully built. This could put the city over the threshold for another liquor license, possibly leading to expansion of the theater.

Bunting said he hopes to expand into the hair salon and bar stool shop adjacent to the theater.

“I think that would be a great expansion,” Bunting said. 

For now, patrons will have to be happy with the improved menu, which will include hot foods such as chicken fingers and french fries. Hasson said the new concession area will include “an extended menu with more than just popcorn and candy.”

It won’t be like Harbor Square, which has a burger bar with a liquor license attached, nor like Ventnor Square, which will have a restaurant attached when its major overhaul is complete, but Tilton Square will have appetizer-type food, she said.

Other new and improved services coming to the theater include kiosks where tickets can be purchased with credit cards and seats chosen, and a service center where customers will be able to fill their own drinks, add butter to their popcorn and get condiments for their food. 

Bunting said there also will be an area for parties and a nearby lounge area for parents with a TV and high-end furniture he bought from Surroundings across Tilton Road.

He said he has not spoken with an city officials yet but hopes to do so soon. He also hopes to hold a grand opening to let people walk around and check out the new theater. No date has been set.

Reached for comment, City Council President Jeff Lischin said the project will be a boon for Northfield.

“I’m thrilled with the Tilton Square Theater project. A huge win for our city to have a state-of-the-art movie facility like this, the only IMAX theater on the mainland, upscale snack bar as well as recliner seating (my personal favorite). The Tilton Square Theater will be a great new draw and anchor, as well as breed new life into the Tilton Shopping Center and the city of Northfield. The renovations so far look beautiful and I’m looking forward to opening night,” he said.