Fourteen months of intensive planning, fundraising, sweating, painting and sawing and hammering and code deciphering are about to pay off for William Mahaffey, Nick Huinker and Logan Myers, partners who have spent the last two years chasing the dream of opening an old-fashioned neighborhood movie house in Knoxville.
Thanks to their perseverance, Happy Holler will once more be home to a moving picture theater sometime in August. It’s hard to be certain of the date quite yet because there are so many variables, but 100-seat Central Cinema, 1205 N. Central, is almost ready to open for business. The smell of popcorn was in the air Tuesday night as a couple of the partners’ kids settled in to watch a birthday run of the Pixar film “Brave.”
Theater Central is next door to the Time Warp Tea Room in a building that once housed the Joy Theater, which was in business from 1916-1955. Time Warp owner Dan Moriarty, the godfather of the Happy Holler renaissance, is the theater’s landlord. The space was most recently occupied by the Knoxville Tai Chi society, which moved out early last year.
“Officially we started the (remodeling) project at beginning of 2017,” Mahaffey said. The partners all have other jobs, and Mehaffey and Huinker were the co-creators of the annual Knoxville Horror Film Fest, which had its most successful year yet in 2016, which made them decide it was time to act on their longtime dream.
They weren’t sure where they should locate until they were selected to participate in Knoxville SOUP, a competitive event where three or four local creatives are selected to introduce innovative plans and pipe dreams.
“We didn’t win, but we got encouragement,” Mahaffey said.
Specifically, they learned that Moraiarity’s longtime tenant, the Tai Chi Society, was relocating. They liked the idea of becoming part of the lively North Central scene and were able to reach an agreement with Moriarty. Discovering that the building had started its life as a neighborhood movie house sealed the deal. The partners launched a GoFundMe page, and to date have raised more than $30,000, which gave them the confidence to get a bank loan.
The notion of an old-time movie house continues to draw support. An “Adopt an Arm” promotion allowed patrons to memorialize a favorite old movie on the arm of a seat (participants will be eliglbile for special screenings and other perks) added to the coffers and the partners’ confidence that their project will be welcomed.
Mahaffey can’t give an exact opening date yet, but is confident that it will be in August, earlier than later. The first offerings will be Raiders of the Lost Ark, Wild at Heart (with Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern) and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. They plan to show first-run indie films that don’t make it to the big theaters, as well.
Adult admission prices will be $9 for evenings, $7 for matinees and $6 for kids, with discounts for military and students.