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Digital projection. Stadium seating. “Surround sound.” Napans will be able to enjoy movies and popcorn like never before.

After years of delay, Century Theatres has signed a lease to open a 12-screen multiplex theater in south Napa.

“We’re taking the entertainment experience to the next level,” Cinemark’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications James Meredith said Wednesday.

The new Century Napa complex, to be located behind South Napa Marketplace, will replace the Century Cinedome 8 located on Pearl Street. The new theater is scheduled to open in spring 2012. 

On Wednesday, the Gasser Foundation announced the lease with Cinemark Holdings, Inc., parent company of Century Theatres. 

“The theater in Napa will be one of the most cutting-edge movie theaters available in the region,” Meredith said. “It will have the latest technology.” 

The Century Napa theater will feature Cinemark’s new theater design concept, 12 auditoriums, wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-floor screens, digital projection, ‘surround-sound,’ 3D capability, online ticketing, self-serve concessions and 2,065 stadium-style seats. 

By comparison, the Cinedome 8 in Napa has 1,411 seats. The new theater will also incorporate green features such as large cisterns to collect rainwater and solar panels.

At the new theater, “There’s not a bad seat in the house,” Meredith said. “What you have is a brand new theater with latest and greatest technology,” he said. “It’s all digital and crystal clear. No more 35 mm projectors.”

After years of moviegoers traveling to Vallejo or Fairfield for bigger and better screens, “There will be no need to go anywhere else,” Meredith said. Visitors may come to Napa to see movies, he said.

A number of hurdles had to be overcome to sign the deal, said Joe Fischer, a consultant working with the Gasser Foundation, said. 

The Gasser Foundation, which owns the land where the new theater will be built, has been working with Century for the past six years, Fischer said. However, the banking crisis made financing the theater “a near impossibility,” he said. 

In addition, the south Napa land was previously designated a floodway. But with newly re-drawn Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps, the theater building is no longer within the floodway, Fischer said. 

Gasser dubbed the 15-acre future home of the theater “South River Place.” The theater building will occupy 41,700 square feet or nearly an acre, with more than 900 parking spaces.

An additional 20,000 square feet of retail should follow, Fischer said. Development plans include several retail buildings, including three on land owned by the Napa Sanitation District. Gasser is negotiating to buy this property.

Design plans for the theater will be submitted to the city this month, Meredith said. 

Potential retail tenants include banking, a restaurant, coffee shop or consumer electronics, Fischer said.

“The idea is to have some space for those users that traditionally cluster around the theater (and) space for primarily national retailers that Napans right now have to drive out of town to patronize,” said Jim Henry, broker for the Gasser Foundation. 

But the theater comes first. “Our focus today is to get the theater open as soon as we can,” Fischer said. 

The Gasser Foundation and Century Theatres had originally proposed a 2,500-seat theater west of Gasser Drive, behind Target, with its back to Imola Avenue. 

To reduce the need for parking, the theater has since been scaled back to 2,065 seats, and moved so the back of the theater faces Hartle Court and the south Napa homeless shelter.

Additional Gasser development is tentatively planned for north of South River Place. Named “Tulocay Square” and “Tulocay Village,” the project could include up to 100,000 square feet of retail and 500 residential units. In time, Silverado Trail would be re-routed across Soscol Avenue to connect to Gasser Drive, officials said.

Cinemark operates 428 theaters with 4,938 screens in 39 states, one Canadian province, Brazil, Mexico and 11 other Latin American countries, according to a news release.

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