MoviE-Town sold to Cocoaplex Cinema owners

The eight-screen MoviE-Town theater in Elizabethtown was sold Wednesday at auction for $1.325 million. (Blaine Shahan)

Fittingly, the auction of MoviE-Town played out like a scene in a film.

Back and forth went the bidding in the theater's lobby Wednesday morning as Hershey area businessman Glen Sponaugle and New York theater owner James Kula sparred for ownership of the Elizabethtown landmark.

A nod here. A raised finger there. Eventually, a pause.

"Going once," lead auctioneer Eric Zettlemoyer said, brandishing a large wooden gavel. "Going twice."

In the end, Sponaugle made the winning bid of $1.325 million, acquiring the eight-screen theater for Room One Corp., the company that owns and operates the Cocoaplex Cinema in Hershey. Sponaugle and Ross Santangelo are partners in the business.

Minnesota-based Maas Cos. Inc. conducted the auction on behalf of Metro Bank, which foreclosed on the property earlier this year, according to court records.

The Town's Theatres, Room One's management subsidiary, has managed MoviE-Town for Metro Bank since late September.

Heather Sweeney, The Town's Theatres' operations manager, said the company plans to renovate MoviE-Town "as needed" over the next several months as weather permits. The lighting in the parking lot will be fixed within a few weeks, she said.

Around Valentine's Day or shortly after, the theater will start converting its projectors to digital, she said. Asked if the cost would be around $1 million, she responded: "That's close."

Converting to digital is a necessity for first-run theaters like MoviE-Town, as Hollywood is ceasing distribution of 35 mm film prints.

MoviE-Town's former owner, MoviE-Town Inc., owed Metro Bank more than $2 million, court filings said. The company also owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes, records showed.

Metro made good as needed on those obligations, according to earlier reports, and the new owners will acquire the theater free and clear of liens.

There were eight registered bidders, Zettlemoyer said, but all the action was between Sponaugle and Kula.

After attorney Paula Leicht of Harrisburg-based Mette Evans & Woodside explained the auction terms, Zettlemoyer opened bidding at $905,000.

Sponaugle and Kula quickly pushed the amount to $1.2 million, where it plateaued.

Kula appeared to be the more reluctant of the two, hesitating several times before increasing his offer. Tyler Maas, the auctioneers' director of sales and marketing, egged the duo on.

Zettlemoyer called a brief recess to confer with the sellers, then returned to affirm the property would indeed be sold. At $1.28 million, Kula considered, then said: "$1,000 more."

At $1.296 million, Kula leaped to $1.3 million. Five $5,000 increments later, Sponaugle's offer stood at $1.325 million, and Kula was done.

"It's OK," he said afterward. "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."

The seven-screen Cocoaplex opened in 1999, Sweeney said. Room One had not really thought about expanding, but then MoviE-Town became available, she said.

"It's our first sister theater," she said.

David Chajkowski, Metro Bank vice president and asset recovery manager, attended the auction on Metro's behalf.

"We're pleased that we had a successful auction," he said.

Kula said he owns seven multiplexes in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, and also does film production and distribution.

He said he set himself a limit that made sense, adding that the extra cost of managing a theater from a distance was a factor, he said.

"If I'm local, I'd do a little more," he said.

The 28,568-square-foot MoviE-Town opened in a former auto dealership, which Barry Garman and two partners bought in 1999 and converted, according to newspaper records. It sits on roughly 3 1/2 acres.

In January, Garman, by then the sole owner, was trying to sell the theater, asking $2.2 million. Metro foreclosed in the spring and finalized acquisition in October, according to court and county records.