New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. sold the first ticket at Criterion Cinemas Friday as part of the grand opening celebration of the city’s first luxury movie complex.
The theater, which is located at 80 Temple St., was completed after 10 months of construction, about two months later than its stated Labor Day goal. An appreciation event was held on Wednesday night for everyone involved in the construction of the theater, and an exclusive sneak preview and reception was held Thursday night for prominent New Haven officials.
Speakers at the reception included DeStefano; U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro; the cinema’s general manager, Joe Masher; and the cinema’s developers, Ben Moss and Charles B. Moss Jr. After their speeches, the Moss brothers, equal partners in their family business Bow Tie Partners, unveiled a 23-foot mural in the theater lobby, adorned with famous faces from the company’s entertainment history.
Assistant manager Joan Alberino said she received a lot of positive feedback after both the exclusive sneak preview and the public grand opening.
“People are very excited that we are bringing more culture to downtown New Haven,” Alberino said. “And everyone is appreciative that the Mosses finally put something in this building that has been empty for 15 years.”
Bow Tie Partners, a Manhattan-based real estate and entertainment firm, initiated the project as the first of a string of first-run art film cinemas the company plans to open in the Northeast. The company specializes in redeveloping historically and architecturally significant buildings with the potential to add vibrant new uses and value to their surrounding communities.
Ben Moss said the goal of building the theater in New Haven was to bring elegance and style back to the movie-going experience while incorporating today’s technology.
“New Haven in my opinion has a great demographic of people who will be eager to see the highest quality of movie in the highest quality theater,” Moss said. “This is why we thought it would be a great flagship theater for our company.”
Along with radio station promotions and a newly designed web page, Alberino said she hopes the cinema’s Tuesday-night $7 student discounts will attract a crowd.
“Although art and foreign films do have a large senior audience, we are expecting a lot of Yalies because of the discount,” she said.
Criterion Cinemas is the centerpiece of Temple Square, a newly renovated complex that used to house the United Illuminating Building. The theater contains a glass marquee, a classic sidewalk box office, an open lobby with a full concessions stand and comfortable theater seating. The complex will also feature 44 luxury apartments, a 5,000-square-foot fine dining restaurant and a 2,000-square-foot casual dining restaurant and lounge.
Yale Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander said he thinks the complex will increase the appeal of downtown New Haven to residents from both the city and the suburbs.
“As crime has virtually disappeared downtown, more and more people are interested in moving there,” Alexander said. “Urban areas are inherently more interesting than suburban areas, especially to young businesspeople and empty-nesters.”
Alexander said he expects Criterion Cinemas to create competition for York Square Cinema, the small independent film theater on Broadway. Criterion Cinemas features five films rather than York Square’s three and offers a full-service beer and wine bar in the lobby.
“Any competition will just make the pie bigger rather than detract from business,” Alexander said. “The more of a market we can create in downtown New Haven, the more vitality and life it will bring.”