The brother and sister team of Dwight and Lynn Curry plan to soon complete “The Studio by MovieLounge” as part of a more than $400,000 investment to capture more event and party business following the summer closure of the Phoenix Expo Center.
In April, officials with Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates (HMA) said they would locate a regional service center in Fort Smith that will eventually employ 500, with an estimated annual payroll of $21.5 million. The center is now located in what was once the 90,000-square foot Phoenix Expo Center. Owned by FSM Redevelopment partners, the Phoenix Expo was the location since early 2010 for numerous civic club meetings, gun shows, weddings, non-profit fundraisers, craft fairs, business expositions and other events.
The Currys, who own the MovieLounge located in a retail area at 7601 Rogers Ave., said following news of the HMA plan that they would open a 25,000-square-foot expo center in the same retail center. The MovieLounge was constructed in what was once a Circuit City, and includes a 115-seat restaurant, banquet area that can seat 235 and three 40-60 person theaters. The about $2.6 million project was completed in early 2012, and now employs around 60, according to Dwight.
However, Dwight said Tuesday that the expo space was scaled back to 12,500 square foot with about 8,000 square feet for meeting space and the remainder for a holding/prep kitchen and other support space.
Part of the reason for reducing the space was to focus on smaller events rather than create a space for the occasional gun shows and other large trade shows.
“Looking at those events with 500 or 600 (people), we determined that was a nice sweet spot for us. ... It’s a lot of wedding parties and corporates parties,” Dwight explained.
The Studio will provide space for a dinner for about 500 or up to 600 for mixers and other non-dining events. Dwight said the new operation will create up to 30 full- and part-time jobs.
The MovieLounge now includes the Epic Events area that can host around 300 for an event. The new space allows the operation to double up during the active party and wedding months.
“The key is to be able to book multiple events in the existing space and within this new space,” Dwight said, adding that MovieLounge celebrity Chef Blythe Beck is working “to develop a wider range of banquet menus.”
The first event – a Christmas dinner hosted by Mercy Fort Smith – in the new space is set for early December. Dwight also said the Southside High School prom has been scheduled. He said demand for meeting space has been “steady” and the closing of the Phoenix Expo “definitely helped fill out the end of this year, and now we’re really focused on filling out 2014 dates.”
Dwight said investment in the new space includes about $200,000 for renovation, another $100,000 estimated for furniture and fixtures, and likely $100,000 for a holding and prep kitchen and other support equipment and space.