McDONOUGH, GA-Henry County, ranked as the sixth fastest-growing county in the US with a surging population of 150,000, has no movie theater, but not for long. Two development groups are racing to be first out of the ground with a cinema for this area, 35 miles south of Downtown Atlanta. Henry County may wind up with two major movie houses.

Area industrial brokers in a position to know tell Great Escape Theaters LLC, owned by Alliance Enterprises Inc. of New Albany, IN, is negotiating to buy 19 acres with an option to buy 24 additional acres for an $11-million, 3,100-seat, 16-screen theater near Henry Town Center and the planned $200-million, 1.5-million-sf South Point mall which also expects to have a cinema.

However, South Point joint venture partners Cousins Properties Inc., Simon Property Group and North American Properties, aren’t planning a ground-breaking before first quarter 2005, while Great Escape principal Anne Ragains plans to break ground this summer and is scheduling a March 2005 debut for her project.

Brokers familiar with the South Point project tell the joint venture partners are not changing their development plans and will be proceeding with their own theater construction at an undetermined date in 2005.

Caldwell Zimmerman, a senior broker at Atlanta-based Colliers Cauble & Co., helped Great Escape Theaters find the 19-acre site at the northeast corner of Interstate 75 and Jonesboro Road in McDonough. Zimmerman confirms the deal is on but tells he can’t disclose the price of the land “because the ink has not officially dried” on the transaction. Great Escape is negotiating with land seller Shallendra Group LLC.

Area brokers tell they estimate the 19-acre deal itself will be valued at about $3.3 million or $175,000 per acre. Without disclosing contract details, Zimmerman says land near the Great Escape site generally sells for $150,000 to $200,000 per acre. For example, the Home Depot site across the road from the planned theater sold for $165,000 per acre or about $3.79 per sf three years ago, Zimmerman says.

“This new theater will serve the growing Henry County market and further establish Jonesboro Road–Interstate 75 as the retail center of the county,” the broker says.

Great Escape Theaters owns and operates 11 theaters in five states and generally builds its cinemas in areas where the population is growing rapidly and theater competition is minimal, according to industry brokers tracking the progress of the seven-year-old company.

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