Vue inks deal for London theaters

New complexes scheduled before 2011

LONDON -- U.K. exhibition chain Vue Entertainment is kicking against the economic doom and gloom, announcing a deal with retail property group Westfield to build a pair of state-of-the-art movie theater complexes in London.

The U.K.'s third-largest chain also said Thursday that it plans to build and operate another six sites by 2011 here as part of "an aggressive development plan." The two sites will go into retail property sites in London and Stratford, a London suburb that will play host to the 2012 Olympics.

Vue Entertainment CEO Tim Richards said the site at London's Westfield shopping center aims to be "the jewel in the crown" for the chain. It will be an all-digital venue with "no film projectors in sight" and Richards claims it will be the biggest purpose-built cinema in Europe, with 3,000 seats in a complex of more than 100,000 square feet.

"The cost of building is material," Richards told THR when quizzed on capital expenditure. "It's going to run to millions of dollars rather than hundreds of thousands but I don't want to talk specifics."

He also said that "many, if not all, the screens" will be 3-D equipped and that he hopes it will be able to fling open its doors in time to carry James Cameron's "Avatar" around the holiday season this year.

The move follows hot on the heels of Vue's February pact with RealD to kit out 200 screens with 3-D projection equipment.

It kicked off that plan with the installation of a 3-D-enabled screen at the exhibitor's flagship location here in Leicester Square.

Vue has 66 cinemas with 650 screens. No further financial details were available at press time.