MovieLounge to add expo center, up to 40 jobs

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 176 views 

Friday (April 5) brought news of the first indirect economic impact of Health Management Associates (HMA) bringing 500 jobs to Fort Smith.

The brother and sister team of Dwight and Lynn Curry, owners of the MovieLounge in Fort Smith, announced Friday they will invest in an expo center near their restaurant and events facility at 7607 Rogers Ave.

Officials with Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates announced Thursday they plan to locate a regional service center in Fort Smith that will eventually employ 500, with an estimated annual payroll of $21.5 million.

The center will locate in what is now the almost 90,000-square foot Phoenix Expo Center. Owned by FSM Redevelopment partners, the Phoenix Expo has been the location since early 2010 for numerous civic club meetings, gun shows, weddings, non-profit fundraisers, craft fairs, business expositions and other events.

But the Phoenix Expo space goes away in a few months when renovations begin at the HMA center.

And it was that news that prompted the Curry’s – who own the mall area in which the MovieLounge is located – to get serious about their plans to develop the former Old Navy store to an expo area.

“We get a lot of requests for parties of 500 and 600 … but were maxed out at 300 right now,” Dwight said. “We had thought about using this space (Old Navy) for a larger event area, and then after the news yesterday, we thought, ‘Well if we needed a bigger sign to hit us over the head, this was it.’”

The new center could add as many as 40 jobs to the Curry’s payroll, which would result in the Fort Smith hospitality company employing more than 100.

The new space will also allow for more variation than now available at the Epic Events center within the MovieLounge.

“It will allow us to do parties at a lot of different price points,” Dwight explained.

The MovieLounge, constructed in what was once a Circuit City, 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 65, according to Dwight.

The new 25,000-square-foot expo center will not be built to look like the well-appointed MovieLounge, Dwight said. Instead, it will be the traditional, flexible expo space with easily divided spaces, movable lighting, carpet and draperies.

Because the building already has an HVAC system, sprinklers, utilities and other necessities, Dwight estimated at $200,000 the top range for completing the expo center.

Dwight expects to open the center as early as June. With the Curry’s invested in hospitality properties, they already have a team in place to quickly design and build out the new space.

“It’s big. A lot has happened this morning … and my head is spinning,” Dwight said.