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$1.8M Theater Upgrade to Begin at National Infantry Museum

A city building permit shows the National Infantry Foundation is spending $350,000 on construction alone at the 1775 Legacy Way museum in south Columbus.

Tue September 29, 2015 - Southeast Edition
Tony Adams - Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) The transition from the IMAX system that has anchored the National Infantry Museum theater for six years to a digital laser projection system expected to wow customers with illuminated high-definition technology is now under way.

A city building permit dated Sept. 1 shows the National Infantry Foundation is spending $350,000 on construction alone at the 1775 Legacy Way museum in south Columbus, on the edge of Fort Benning. Batson-Cook, which built the museum, is the general contractor.

After the dust settles and the equipment is installed, the price tag for the project will total $1.8 million, said Cyndy Cerbin, director of communications at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park. A significant portion of the money has come from an unnamed donor, who will be offered the opportunity to have their name on the theater if they wish, she said.

“It won’t be an IMAX system, but it will still be a giant screen,” Cerbin said of the theater renovation. “What we’re having to do is pull out the IMAX equipment and replace it with a digital system and a new screen and a new audio system.’”

Cerbin noted a 72-ft. (21.9 m) stage also is being built. That allows the theater space to also be used as a general purpose auditorium for groups gatherings, presentations and live music events.

Ben Williams, president of the National Infantry Foundation, has said the new digital laser technology will offer “cleaner, crisper” high-definition viewing unlike any in the region. A 6P Christie Laser Projection System is being installed in the theater, which will include 3D. Christie, with offices and facilities in the U.S., Canada and China, is a subsidiary of Ushio Inc. of Japan. An Evanston, Ill.-based company called D3D Cinema has designed and is overseeing the conversion.

A key goal of museum management is to gain access to a larger variety of movies and documentaries, which have become limited with the overall move by the industry from traditional film to digital production. The IMAX system previously operated by the museum theater staff used the old film technology.

“There are still some IMAX films being produced on film, but most of them are digital now,” Cerbin said. “Without a digital projector, we couldn’t even be in the running for those. Plus, as one of the smaller theaters, it was always a challenge for us to get one of the few prints that were being made of film versions. So this is going to open up opportunities to get all kinds of new titles in here.”

There also will be cost savings for the museum, which charges admission for the theater, but not for the museum itself. Instead, visitors are encouraged to make a $5 donation.

“The new system will represent a cost savings for us,’ Cerbin said. “We will own the equipment outright, and will not have to pay IMAX leasing fees.”

The 289-seat museum theater closed in late August, with Dec. 1 the target date for opening. Special events are planned, as are presentations of the holiday movie, ”The Polar Express,’ which has become an annual tradition at the theater.

Asked if classic movies, such as old war flicks, might be shown in the digitalized theater, Cerbin said that’s always a possibility. More distributors are converting older Hollywood offerings to a digital format that can be used on a giant screen. “Patton” and “Bridge Over the River Kwai” are Academy Award-winning examples that could one day be part of the programming mix.

The 190,000-sq. ft. (17651.5 sq m) National Infantry Museum was relocated from a former Army hospital building on Fort Benning’s Main Post, with the $110 million facility opening in June 2009. The complex entertains about 300,000 visitors each year. It is approaching 2 million visitors since its debut. Visitors include young soldiers in training, family members of those graduating training, active duty soldiers and family members, school groups, military reunion attendees and the general public.

The theater is targeted at all of those audiences. Documentaries seem to work better than full-length Hollywood productions because visitors can more easily fit it into their visit, Cerbin said.

“Obviously, we like any films that have a military theme, but our many school groups are interested in anything that’s educational. Soldiers like stories of adventure. We offer a lot of family movies, especially when kids are out of school.”

Aside from the revamped movie theater, the museum is planning improvement and additions in other areas. Work on a gallery that covers the early years of the infantry (1775-1898) is now under way and scheduled for completion in early 2016. A second phase of the facility’s $20 million capital campaign will eventually fund a “Global War on Terrorism Memorial” and a patio garden designed for outdoor events. There are no dates yet for completion of those.

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