With a $6 million renovation project partially complete, AMC Theatre in Braintree is already seeing a significant boost in audience, especially during peak times on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Whereas an evening in early December might have meant 250 guests, recently the amount of customers has increased to approximately 700, even as the renovations mean many less seats, General Manager Michelle Norman told the Board of License Commissioners Tuesday afternoon.
Norman and AMC Director of Operations Jason Walters appeared before the board to request extended operating hours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday to keep up with the increased demand. Starting certain movies just after midnight allows more showtimes, which AMC needs because they are in the process of reducing the seat count from 2,800 to 974.
"We're looking for that flexibility when business makes sense," Norman said.
Despite strong opposition from Chair Joe Powers, the request was approved by a vote of 3-1, giving AMC the ability to start movies as late as 12:15 a.m. on those nights as long as they end by 2:30 a.m. If the theatre needs extended finishing hours on Thursdays for premieres, it can petition the board as it has in the past.
Four theatres so far have been overhauled, with leather seats replacing the older models. Half of the concession stand has also been re-done, with the remainder of renovations expected to be complete by mid-February. Those also include new bathrooms, carpet, sound systems and other amenities.
The project allows AMC Braintree to compete with newer venues such as Showcase Cinemas in Randolph that have comfortable recliners in stadium-style theatres, Norman said. Since the renovations began, Braintree has already seen a large uptick in customers and will soon begin reserve seating, she added.
Powers voted against the request, saying that AMC has had a final showtime of 11 p.m. in Braintree for years and that the extended hours could disturb neighbors.
"I don't see the value to the community," Powers said. "To me it's a slippery slope. We're becoming a community that could become 24/7."
No other businesses in Braintree with alcohol, food or entertainment licenses are allowed to operate as late as 2:30 a.m., Powers added, arguing that the town should not compete with cities like Boston when it comes to late-night operations.
Board member Russell Forsberg, the town's building inspector, said that instead of creating obstacles, Braintree should support businesses that attempt to increase their value for customers.
"They have made a substantial investment in the community and their property," Forsberg said.
The approval also included increasing police details at the theatre. Currently, one officer is positioned down the hill from AMC on Saturday from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Now there will be a detail on Thursday and Friday as well.