- By Gary Dinges American-Statesman Staff
The days of driving from Dripping Springs to Austin to catch a movie have come to an end.
The first of what could one day be many Sky Cinemas locations across the nation debuts Friday, making it one of the first tenants in Endeavor Real Estate Group’s new Belterra Village shopping center to open its doors.
“We love the people we’ve met out here so far,” Sky Cinemas creator Bill Banowsky said. “They’ve been so supportive. I absolutely wanted the first Sky Cinemas to be here.”
Construction took about a year, getting underway in February of last year.
Banowsky is the man behind the Violet Crown theater chain that got its start in downtown Austin, since adding locations in Santa Fe., N.M., and Charlottesville, Va.
While there are some similarities between the two brands, Banowsky said there are key differences, as well. Violet Crown is more focused on independent and art films and is targeting urban areas, squeezing its way into existing buildings. To make enough room for the Austin location, for instance, Banowsky and his team broke through a wall and expanded into a chunk of space in an adjacent parking garage.
Sky Cinemas, on the other hand, is targeting suburban areas such as Dripping Springs where there’s land available to build from the ground up. With a bigger theater – Sky Cinemas has 14 screens, while the downtown Austin Violet Crown location has four screens – Banowsky’s latest concept is capable of showing a mix of both art films and Hollywood blockbusters.
Movies showing this weekend include “Phantom Thread,” “The Post,” “I, Tonya,” “Darkest Hour,” “Maze Runner: Death Cure,” “Hostiles,” “12 Strong,” “Paddington 2,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Girls Trip.”
“We believe the people here in the Dripping Springs area are as interested in seeing the smart films – not just the popcorn flicks – as the people in downtown Austin,” Banowsky said.
Both Sky Cinemas and Violet Crown offer a selection of food and beverages – including 30 local and regional beers on tap at the new Dripping Springs location. Among those are offerings from Jester King, Treaty Oak Brewing, Real Ale Brewing Co., Live Oak Brewing Co., Austin Beerworks, 512 Brewing Co. and Argus Cidery. The beers can be ordered in the lobby and brought into theaters.
Auditoriums at Sky Cinemas range in size from intimate 30-seat screening rooms on the first floor to a 120-seat theater on the second floor. Most of the auditoriums are somewhere in the middle, coming at about 70 seats apiece.
Seats are extra-wide, plush, have attached tray tables and are capable of fully reclining.
Austin-based VeroKolt Design handled the design of the theater, which features an airy lobby with plenty of windows. Taking a cue from the theater’s name, walls feature varying shades of blue.
“The intention was to keep it very simple,” designer Veronica Koltuniak said. “I felt very compelled to do a minimalist design. We didn’t want to overdo it.”
While Banowsky – a former executive with Magnolia Pictures and Landmark Theatres – has no other Sky Cinemas locations in the works right now, he said he’d like to take the concept nationwide if the Dripping Springs theater does as well as he expects.
“We have taken all the things we’ve learned over the years in the cinema business and used them to design this fresh, clean-slate kind of theater,” he said.
Still to come at the Dripping Springs theater is an outdoor beer garden with a stage where local bands can perform. Banowsky expects it to open in early March.