The Ritz Cinemas opened on 20 November 1998 as part of the Hollywood Connection Family Entertainment Center, owned and operated by Carmike Cinemas. The multimillion, 165,000-square-foot complex was part of an “entertainment mecca” which included the West Valley City E Center, which opened in September 1997, and the Hale Centre Theatre, which opened 1 October 1998. The Hollywood Connection in West Valley City was the second built by Carmike Cinemas, the original being located in Columbus, Georgia, the company's headquarters.[2, 10]
The Ritz Cinemas featured stadium seating and digital sound on all 15 screens, and THX-certification on five. The theater complex was one of the first in Salt Lake County to upgrade to digital projection, beginning with Superman Returns in June 2006.
The Ritz featured an indoor ticket counter, with concession stands on either side of the lobby. Restrooms and a satellite concession stand were located at the intersection of the two main hallways. The largest auditorium was Theater 9, with 400 seats, a 60-foot screen, and THX certification. The next largest theaters were 3 through 6, also THX certified.
The Ritz hosted the “world's largest line party” for the opening of The Return of the King in December 2003. Over 1,200 fans attended the event, which included “hundreds of Oscar-worthy costumes,” Elfin music, grab bags, and prizes. Line party committee members decorated the Ritz with banners, replicas of the two towers, a Hobbit hole, a swan ship, Shelob, and Galadriel's glade.[3, 4]
The fun center of the Hollywood Connection occupied the north side of the complex, with its own set of exterior doors adjacent to those of the Ritz Cinemas. Immediately inside stood a three-sided movie poster case and an interior entrance to the Ritz, complete with marquee and attraction board. A carousel, 28 feet in diameter and 20 feet high, served as a centerpiece for the first section of the fun center. Surrounding it were a 30-foot Balloon Tower ride, restrooms, a satellite concession stand, the Crazy Bus “adventure ride,” Krazy Kars (16 bumper cars), and a soft play structure.[1, 2]
A staircase, spiraling around an elevator, led to Mind Games, a video arcade with 100 of the newest high-tech, interactive video games. Also upstairs were an ice cream parlor, arcade redemption center, and Xtreme Laser Tag, a three-dimensional arena for up to 24 players. Below the arcade was a ticket counter, party rooms, and the Lieutenant's soda fountain, which was open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.[1, 2]
The northwest corner of the complex, with windows on three sides, featured the Dragon Coaster, a tame roller coaster, and Caddy Shack, a 21,000-square-foot 18-hole miniature golf course. Xanadu, a roller rink complete with state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, occupied the northeast portion of the building. Xanadu had its own exterior entrance, plus interior entrances near the Caddy Shack and Lieutenant's diner.[1, 2]
The goal of the Hollywood Connection was “to have enough entertainment for your family under one roof that you don't have to go around town. If you want to have dinner before you go to the movie, you have a restaurant right there. If, after the movie, you've got some time and want to do something else, you can do it. . . . There's something for every member of the family, so no one is left out of having a good time.”
The 15 screens of the Ritz Cinemas provided “a variety of movies to see all in one location.” Parents and children could see separate movies “and meet in the hallway later.” Multiple screens offered Carmike Cinemas “a tremendous economy of efficiency,” with one concession stand servicing multiple auditoriums. Multiple movie start times ensured employees never sat idle at the box office or candy counter.
Megaplex Theatres opened a new 15-screen theater complex at Valley Fair Mall in November 2012, less than a mile away from the Hollywood Connection. For the first few months, the Ritz Cinemas had difficulty booking first run films. Even after the restriction was lifted, the Ritz had to drop ticket prices to compete. A sign on the edge of the property boasted, "Carmike $ma$she$ prices on tickets and concessions. Lower ticket prices. Lower concession prices. Best deal in town!" An abundance of new movie screens in the Salt Lake Valley eventually forced both Megaplex Theatres and Cinemark to offer $5 Tuesday bargains.
The Hollywood Connection also partnered with Seven Peaks and CityDeals.com to be included in the Pass of all Passes. On weekdays, pass holders could have unlimited rides, skating, and mini golf for only a $2 entrance fee.
The West Valley City Redevelopment Agency board voted on 8 January 2013 to purchase the 14.74-acre plot containing the Hollywood Connection Entertainment Center from Carmike Cinemas for $7 million. The move was designed to persuade the adjacent Hale Centre Theatre to build a second, much larger venue in West Valley City rather than moving to Sandy. The board noted that even if Hale decided to expand elsewhere, the city would have “other options for the Carmike property, including putting a commercial or mixed use project on it.” The purchase agreement required a $100,000 non-refundable deposit.
West Valley City, “unable to persuade Hale to accept the deal,” halted negotiations on 6 February 2013. A few weeks later Hale Centre Theatre announced they would expand in Sandy. In March 2013, West Valley City had not decided whether to go through with the purchase of the Carmike property.
After a newspaper article was published on the subject, the Hollywood Connection announced on its Facebook page, “Hey everyone! We have some unfortunate news, that everyone has been asking for answers! ): Today November 13th, 2014 will be our last day of operation! We will be closing down our business as we have been bought out by another company. We do appreciate all of our loyal customers and we will miss you all so much! Thank you for the great 16 years we have had spending it with you!” A follow-up comment said, “The company that bought our facility will not be doing the same operations as we have. As the building will be turned into a call center.”[6, 9, 10]
A large crowd came to the Hollywood Connection for the fun center's closing night. Only one employee worked at the Ritz, selling tickets from the concessions stand. While some moviegoers watched Big Hero 6 on the large screen in Theater 9, other movies played to empty auditoriums.
1. "Multiplex destiny", Salt Lake Tribune, 19 July 1998, page D1
2. "More fun on Decker Lake Drive as complex near E Center opens", Deseret News, 20 November 1998, page B4
3. "Day of reckoning at last for Utah 'Rings' fanatics", Deseret Morning News, 17 December 2003
4. "It's Hobbit-Forming", Salt Lake Tribune, 17 December 2003
6. Hollywood Connection Family Fun Center, facebook.com, retrieved 11 December 2014
7. "West Valley City to buy Hollywood Connection property for $7M", Salt Lake Tribune, 08 January 2013
8. "West Valley City disappointed about Hale Centre Theatre leaving town", Salt Lake Tribune, 02 March 2013
9. "Ritz 15 theaters closing in West Valley City", Salt Lake Tribune, 11 November 2014
10. "Hollywood Connection Family Fun Center closes", KSL News, 14 November 2014