After nearly 45 years and thousands of movie screenings, Augusta’s discount theater has been permanently closed.
Georgia Theater Company chairman Bill Stembler said Thursday that GTC Masters Cinemas movie theater has been turned back over to the landlord at Forum Management Group and will not reopen its doors.
Masters originally closed along with the other GTC theaters in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Masters reopened in late September, but was closed again on Nov. 5 because of a lack of movies to show, GTC chief operating officer Jeff Mobley said. The pandemic has caused many new releases to slow to a halt, and because theaters like Riverwatch and Evans have been lacking in new movies to show,even fewer films existed to then distribute to Masters.
“I’m a realist … there are some people that try to stay open and get litigation … and we would’ve been a tenant-at-will at the 20th of this month, and … there’s no future in that,” Stembler said.
The ground lease for the property ends Friday, Feb. 19. Landlord Joe Healy of Forum Management Group was left a voicemail message for comment Thursday afternoon and had not called back as of 3 p.m.
Masters Cinemas first opened on Feb. 20, 1976, according to Mobley, and was built by Stembler as one of the first four-screen theaters in Georgia. The opening day’s first movies were the Oscar-winning drama “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the Al Pacino crime drama “Dog Day Afternoon,” the George Burns comedy “The Sunshine Boys” and the cryptozoological documentary “The Legend of Bigfoot.”
“It was the very first theater I ever developed … and it’s sort of emotional, I hate to see it go,” Stembler said. “It was very important to our company in 1976 when it opened.”
“I ran it for about five years as the theater manager,” Mobley said. “Just a lot of pride in the way we ran the theater, and I think the longevity speaks for that.”
Stembler said Riverwatch and Evans cinemas are not currently in danger for also closing permanently. Both theaters are currently open Tuesdays and weekends (Fridays through Sundays). Mobley said the theaters will stay in this limited opening until the film studios release a consistent flow of new movies. He estimates the theaters will not reopen for a full seven days until May.