Sun may rise on Empire again after sale

OLIVIA WANNAN
Last updated 05:00 18/01/2014
Pat Vinaccia
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ

HAPPY ENDING: The Empire Cinema’s new owner Pat Vinaccia is keen to see the Island Bay building remain as a movie theatre. 

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The Empire Strikes back - two locals are giving the historic Island Bay cinema another chance at life.

Island Bay residents Pat and Carla Vinaccia bought the suburban Wellington theatre - which first opened in 1925 and closed in 1964 before reopening in 2006 - late last year.

Mr Vinaccia, a property developer, said his aim was to keep the building running as a theatre. "I love the idea of a cinema in Island Bay and so does the community."

He would be finalising plans in coming months, but at this stage, he saw the Empire reopening some time this year.

Before the projectors came to life again, the three-screen complex would undergo a refurbishment - possibly with the addition of a restaurant to be run by Mrs Vinaccia.

"I'm of Italian heritage, so I think a pizza offering in Island Bay would be quite cool."

However, the developer said the cinema would have to prove its financial viability against any refurbishment costs. He would be consulting architects and film industry experts.

The sale, through Colliers International agent Sam McIlroy, would be settled by the end of the month.

Mr McIlroy said the sale of the Empire had sparked a lot of interest. "I've never had so many inquiries. Everyone's very keen to see it stay."

Mr Vinaccia declined to comment on the sale price. The building, with its three screens and seating between 49 and 65 people, had a rateable value of $1.25 million.

The theatre closed its doors in October last year.

Owners Ian and Angela Hay cited variable audience numbers and increased competition in Wellington for the closure, though initially they hoped to reopen. Ten people were employed at the theatre.

In November, the Empire was listed as a mortgagee sale. Mrs Hay said she hoped for the suburb's sake the new owner would keep the building as a movie theatre.

After the shutdown, local residents had been very vocal with their love for the Empire complex, she said. "It was very sad that it closed. I'm sure everyone will be waiting with bated breath now the sold sign is on it as to what will become of it."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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