Engineers called in after leaks shut giant cinema

By Anne Gibson

The largest new multiplex cinema to open in New Zealand this year has been shut indefinitely while its weathertightness and other building issues are investigated.

All theatres in the 1800-seat SkyCity Cinemas at Westfield Albany have been closed to the public since Thursday last week after the cinema operator called for help from consultants including engineers.

The curtain went down just before the school holidays, when SkyCity was aiming to draw thousands with midwinter hits including Kung Fu Panda and Narnia: Prince Caspian.

Now, movie fans must go to other North Shore screens, and extra staff are being called in at rival theatres to cope with an unexpected influx.

SkyCity's marketing manager, Lisa Chambers, said yesterday the Albany theatres might open again tomorrow but nothing was certain until the experts had reported.

Problems with the roof resulted in cinema seven being shut a month ago, she said, and independent engineers were called in.

"As soon as there was a hint of any problems it was shut, and now we have had this ongoing investigation taking place but not fast enough."

Patrons were never in any danger, she said.

Investigations are now focused on the roof area above what Ms Chambers referred to as the "holding area" between the screen and seats.

SkyCity had been making these checks after hours when the main complex was shut but this had proved difficult, she said, so it had been decided to shut the entire complex until problems were diagnosed.

Damage was confined to cinema seven, where parts of the interior had water damage and problems had been found with paint, she said.

Once problems were discovered in one theatre, SkyCity decided to shut the entire complex to get to the heart of theissue.

The cause remained a mystery.

"About 10 different factors have contributed. That's why it's taken so long. Trying to identity one thing has been the challenge. No one thing has been identified."

SkyCity was still paying rent to Westfield, Ms Chambers said, because it was the tenant, not the landlord, who had made the decision to close.

The cinemas were the final stage of the 1.6ha, $210 million Albany mall which has won the Property Council's supreme award as New Zealand's most successful real estate development.

This month, Auckland retail consultant RCG also called the mall New Zealand's best shopping centre, saying it deserved four stars for having everything needed for a flourishing retail hub including easy access, a great mix of tenants and big potential.

Late last year, Westfield New Zealand director Justin Lynch acknowledged that design changes were made to the structure before it was finished.

"At Westfield Albany, the peer review process resulted in some design change recommendations, which Westfield carried out to the satisfaction of the council and independent reviewers," Mr Lynch said.

On June 2, SkyCity was forced to close part of the multiplex when the sprinklers went off.

Westfield spokeswoman Deb McGhie said at the time that the company was investigating how the sprinklers were activated.

No one was hurt, she said, but there was considerable water damage to the cinema.

Yesterday, Westfield referred all inquiries to SkyCity.

HORROR SHOW
* SkyCity Albany has 10 screens.
* The new multiplex cinema opened in April.
* It is the North Shore's first Gold Class theatre.
* The complex is shut while experts investigate problems.

- NZ Herald

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