By Hilary Danailova
Movie theaters don’t usually come with trampoline parks. But why not? That was the creative thinking of Phil Zacheretti, a 42-year veteran of theater management, when confronted with 10,000 square feet of empty space in a Pittsburgh movie house.
Today the facility, Altimate Air, is a hugely successful model for what could be the future of movie theaters — as hybrid family entertainment centers that offer pursuits like rock climbing, dodge ball and trampolines alongside films.
Anchoring a shopping complex in suburban North Versailles, Pa., Altimate Air offers patrons a full range of entertainment options. Theater patrons can grab a beer and a basket of wings and shoot some pool or play darts at the full-service balcony sports bar. Before or after the show, kids can enjoy a round of air hockey at the game room arcade or a bounce in the trampoline park where there are at least a half-dozen ways to jump — from a “bounce house” for small children to air dodge ball. And the whole family can enjoy a clamber up the rock-climbing wall in the lobby.
“It’s worked out very well,” said Zacheretti, who with his wife, Tammie, owns Knoxville, Tenn.-based Phoenix Theatres, a national theater management firm. “We think that might have been the first combo of a movie and a trampoline park when it opened two years ago.”
Altimate Air was born when Phoenix took over the management of two aging cineplexes in metropolitan Pittsburgh. Both had 22 screens, relics of a time with less entertainment competition. Zacheretti, whose firm specializes in maximizing profits for theater owners through strategic operations and distribution, immediately decided to reduce the number of screens to 18.
But in renovating the North Versailles warehouse, Zacheretti was left with roughly 18,000 square feet of dead space — space he viewed as an opportunity to generate revenue. The owner had been eyeing a trampoline park in the complex, and Zacheretti thought, why not put it right in the theater?
Mike Chele, Phoenix’s city manager for the two Pittsburgh theaters, saw a difference right away. “You get a bigger crowd,” he explained of the Altimate Air effect. “There’s a bigger buzz in the building. When people come into the theater, they see this trampoline park and say, wow! They all want to try it.”
While novel in itself, the idea dovetailed with a trend that has been transforming movie theaters over the past decade: amenities. Today people can watch first-run films on the living room couch, so theaters have been luring patrons with stadium seating, bars, lounges, even full-service restaurants. “People said, wow, we can make a little more money on this,” Zacheretti recalled. “Everyone who owns a theater is trying to get into the alcohol business. The kids can drink a Coke, and the parents can have a beer.”
Phoenix, which operates 11 theaters in the South, Mid-Atlantic and Southwest, installed its first bar in 2005; bowling alleys and game rooms followed, all boosting the bottom line. But Altimate Air is the closest Phoenix has come to merging a movie theater with an FEC. One bonus of all those amenities, especially the trampoline park, is the increase in lucrative birthday parties, said General Manager Jason Bauer.
“Birthday party revenue is key,” said Bauer, who said a popular package includes an hour of jumping, followed by an hour of pizza and drinks in the party room; rock climbing is included. The theater itself has a party room, and Altimate Air has become a local favorite for group events, fundraisers and other celebrations (Bauer said the facility donates 40 percent of each fundraiser ticket to the cause).
Teen night, held weekly from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays, has also become a moneymaker since its launch in late 2015, Bauer said. Up to 120 teens ages 14-18 clamber up the rock wall, compete on the “ninja course,” dance to a DJ, bounce on the trampoline, and enjoy pizza and drinks. “In wintertime, we’ve sold out three out of the last four weekends,” Bauer said.
Parties aside, the typical visitors sticks to one main activity, observed Zacheretti. “What we’ve seen is that if they’re coming to the trampoline park, they’re coming to the trampoline park, and if they’re coming to the movie theater, they’re coming to the movie theater,” he said. “And part of that is time. By the time you leave the house, park, and see the movie, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour event.”
Even so, Zacheretti has observed youngsters jumping for a half-hour while waiting before a show starts or blowing off steam on the trampolines afterward. “And if you’re old enough and you want to go have a beer for an hour while your kids jump, you can do that as well,” he said. With plenty of supervision in the closed facility, Zacheretti said parents can take a break while their older kids play in the arcade or the trampoline park, without having to keep a strict eye on them.
The Phoenix team all agreed: The biggest advantage of a multi-activity theater is the cross-promotion factor, where moviegoers get inspired to come back to the trampoline park and vice versa. “If you come just to the trampoline park, you may have never come to the theater, but then you see it and you get ideas,” said Zacheretti.
Phoenix Vice President of Operations Chris Gehring agreed. “All the activities complement each other,” he said, noting that Altimate Air sells combination packages that bundle the trampoline park, sports bar, game room and movie theater. His colleague Adriana Esquivel, a marketing manager, said word of mouth has translated into strong sales for every part of the theater complex. “Word’s getting out a lot more that the trampoline park is in the theater,” Esquivel said. “I think it’s going to pick up a lot with the summer coming.”
A half-million people visited the trampoline park, bar and movie theater at Altimate Air in 2016, and attendance is expected to grow. Phoenix just built a freestanding trampoline park in an upscale shopping center in Leesburg, Va.; Zacheretti said he thinks Altimate Air can be a model for the future of family entertainment. “We tie in with entertainment, free time, disposable income,” he said. “And we have it all in one place.”