It’s been some time since Ray Murray ran an actual movie theater. The old Theater of the Living Arts is now a concert hall, and his company, TLA Video, does business strictly online now, having closed all its video rental stores. But the movie theater bug apparently has infected him again, for he has come up with a new use for part of the TLA warehouse at 631 N. Sixth Street in Northern Liberties.
He showed preliminary sketches of his proposed Warehouse Cinema to the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association (NLNA) at its Jan. 28 zoning committee meeting.
The theater would bring a new concept in cinema to Philadelphia: the "lounge style" theater that makes the moviegoing experience something closer to home theater, only with bigger screens, better sound, and a greater variety of food and drink available.
Murray's proposal would convert the west end of the TLA warehouse into a three-screen cinema with a lobby lounge, outdoor seating, and food and beverage service, including alcohol. Murray can develop the theater by right under the lot's current ICMX zoning, but the liquor license application triggered the appearance in front of the NLNA.
Most of the neighbors' concerns were that the facility would become more of a restaurant and club than a movie theater. Northern Liberties residents deal with spillover from neighborhood bars and clubs on an ongoing basis, and several residents wanted assurances built into the "conditional license agreement" that civic groups can negotiate with license holders that the primary use of the site would be a movie theater with the food service as an accessory use.
The NLNA zoning committee voted to insist on restrictions on hours of operation, a prohibition on outside sound and live performances, and a reduction of the outdoor seating by half as conditions of supporting the license application. It also asked Murray to return before the group with plans that provide specifics about dimensions and square footage and to increase the size of the bathrooms to handle what is likely to be increased usage by patrons who are dining and drinking while watching the movies.
The ball is now back in Murray's court. The next round with the NLNA could take place as soon as next month.