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The troubled saga of Founders Row’s movie theater

Founders Row concept rendering (image via City of Falls Church)

The theater at the Founders Row mixed-use project could be scaled down from earlier plans, but the tradeoff is that Falls Church could be getting a new arcade and bowling alley.

At a meeting of the Falls Church City Council on Monday, the Council reviewed requested changes for Founders Row. The development was approved for 59,493 square feet of ground floor retail, 4,946 square feet of office space, 394 apartments and a 32,079 square foot, 2-story movie theater. That theater, though, has become something of a sticking point.

Along the way, developer Mill Creek Residential Trust has asked for concessions that the City Council said they’ve been reticent to give. One condition of approval was a cap on residential occupancies at 50% until the movie theater was opened.

The theater was originally slated to be a Studio Movie Grill, but the dine-in movie chain filed for bankruptcy due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[The] Applicant had previously entered a lease agreement with a theater operator, but the operator declared bankruptcy stemming from economic challenges due to the COVID pandemic,” the staff report said.

The report noted that Mill Creek wanted to be able to fully open the residential side of the project even if they were unable to secure another movie theater.

“With the bankruptcy and loss of the original theater and the current marketplace the ability to secure a replacement theater was delayed, while the Founders Row project construction and apartment occupancies were continuing,” the report said. “In order to release the second half of the project residential apartment for occupancies, Mill Creek agreed to add additional guarantees in support of the theater by escrowing $3.6 million in funds for commercial tenant improvements and with at least 50 percent of the total commercial retail having tenant improvements underway prior to the issuance of a certificate of occupancies for the last twenty (20) residential units.”

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