Curtain time? Carmike zooms in on Waynesboro


How important is the presence of a movie theater to a small town? Ask Waynesboro mayor Tom Reynolds.

"I remember when I ran for city council the first time, back in 2000," he says. "I met with residents at the Summit Square retirement community, and one of their main concerns was about the Wayne Theatre, which had just closed down."

Reynolds and other city leaders might not be dealing with the issue much longer. Columbus, Georgia-based Carmike Cinemas has expressed interest in the river city, and earlier this month a local developer submitted a rough sketch for a 10-screen cineplex in Waynesboro's west end.

"It's a great thing– if only psychologically for the perception that there are things to do," says city councilman Chuck Ricketts. "It can be a big morale booster for a small town like Waynesboro to have that kind of outlet."

Carmike's interest is big news in Waynesboro, but caution is advised. Beckley, West Virginia-based Marquee Cinemas considered the Valley town in 1998 and 2004 but walked away both times.

"I know that cinemas is not an easy business to make money in, with the growth in video stores and DVDs and cable and satellite TV," Ricketts says.

Local theater-industry consultant Reid Oechslin sees the interest of Marquee and Carmike as good signs for Waynesboro.

"The talk about Marquee and then Carmike being interested in the Waynesboro market shows that they think the population base is here to support more screens," says Oechslin, a former manager at Charlottesville's Vinegar Hill Theater, who now lives in Waynesboro.

The recognition of outsiders that Waynesboro has potential as a moneymaker is enough to suit Reynolds– for now, anyway. The Carmike sketch came in conjunction with a conditional-use permit request for the site.

"It looks like we're pretty close to seeing something happening out there," Reynolds says. "We've come this close before and been disappointed, so we're not out of the woods yet. But it's exciting to be talking about this."

DVDs aren't good enough for River City.