Magic Johnson cinema at Greenbriar Mall to close

The movie theater that bears Magic Johnson’s name at Greenbriar Mall — opened amid much hoopla 13 years ago – will show its last movie on Sunday.

The theater owner, Kansas City, Mo.,-based AMC Entertainment, said the 12-screen complex is underperforming. Employees were told last week the theater will close Oct. 11.

The company would not say how many people are employed at the theater or whether they will be offered positions at other AMC properties.

Ex-NBA star Johnson is no longer a partner in the theater, though it has borne his name since he invested $8 million to build the complex in 1996.

The project was hailed as investment in a slumping area. The Atlanta theater received a controversial $118,000 break on the city’s developer impact fees.

It was one of four theaters Johnson opened nationwide -- part of a larger business strategy Johnson employed to bring private projects into economically depressed areas. That has proven successful for Johnson, who recently raised about $1 billion for his Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, his third round of equity funding.

One of his funds injected $12.5 million into the Selig Enterprises/Daniel Corp. condo project, Plaza Midtown on West Peachtree St., which is anchored by a Publix.

Johnson also owns businesses and properties in 21 states through Magic Johnson Enterprises, including dozens of Starbucks, Burger Kings and health clubs. And Johnson owns 5 percent of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team.

The Greenbriar theater changed hands several times. AMC acquired it after merging with Loews Theatres in 2006.

AMC spokesman Andy DiOrio said the company has closed a handful of theaters nationwide this year as it seeks to upgrade or close aging theaters.

“While we understand and appreciate that community’s affinity with that theater, we also have two others in that vicinity, AMC Parkway Pointe 15 and AMC Southlake Pavilion 24,” he said.

Atlanta City Council member Jim Maddox, who represents the Greenbriar area, said he’s disappointed to see the complex shuttered, and hopes another theater company will take it over.

One of the mall’s owners, Charlie Hendon, said that a broker hired to fill the space has received interest from potential tenants, including some non-theater uses.

The closure is a second blow in recent months to the mall, which saw Circuit City shuttered as that chain liquidated. The Magic Johnson complex is one of the mall’s three anchor tenants, along with Macy’s and the Burlington Coat Factory.

Hendon Properties owns 50 percent of the mall. Canadian company Dundee Realty also owns 50 percent, and the mall is managed by O’Leary Partners Inc., the operators of Underground Atlanta.

In 2002, Johnson was interested in buying Greenbriar Mall, but talks stalled. It would’ve been Johnson’s fourth mall investment at the time.

Today, said Hendon, president and CEO of Hendon Properties, the mall in general is performing “fantastically.” The enclosed portion of the mall is 95 percent leased, he said.

In 2004, Johnson closed a T.G.I. Fridays restaurant he owned near Greenbriar Mall, and admitted it was due to poor customer service.

“That one was on us, and I learned a lot from that,” he told the AJC at the time.

Still, the theater was considered a boon to Greenbriar when Johnson took a chance on it.

Back then, the 68,000 square foot theater that can seat 3,000 received 774 applicants for 130 part-time jobs.

Hendon, however, said the theater failed to spur “cross-pollination” with the mall because it sits so far away. “I don’t think one added to other either way,” he said.