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Alamo Drafthouse founder blown away by new Katy theater

August 6, 2018

Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League was taken aback while watching his well-heeled guests sip champagne at the grand opening of the newest theater in the Austin-based chain at Katy’s LaCenterra shopping and dining complex.

The swanky eight-screen movie house with reclining chairs and state-of-the-art technology was a far cry from the modest single screen theater League and his wife cobbled together with their bare hands back in 1997.

“It’s bananas,” he said. “This is unlike any theater we’ve every built. I’m really proud of it.”

The LaCenterra theater replaces the Alamo Drafthouse’s venerable operation at Katy’s Mason Park, which closed June 21 after a dozen years at the location. The new theater features Sony 4K digital projection and digital surround sound in each auditorium, a full dining menu along and a bar serving 46 beers on tap and an equal number of premium whiskeys and bourbons.

“I love the presentation here,” League said. “This is a more expensive theater to build. I think we’ve matured as a company and we know what we want in terms of size (and) presentation quality.”

The LaCenterra theater was built to order unlike the now former Alamo Drafthouse on Mason Park.

“I really liked that theater but it was also a conversion of an older theater. I think that speaks to where we were 12 years ago,” League said.

While the movie house may be new, one well-known Alamo Drafthouse feature will be in force at LaCenterra, a strictly-enforced zero tolerance policy for talking or cell phone use during the movie.

“We’re dedicated to high quality presentation and great experiences for our guests,” League said.

League traded in an engineering degree and a job in the oil industry in 1997 when he and his wife opened up the first Alamo Drafthouse. Now almost 40 theaters in the chain are scattered across the country.

“I didn’t have a master plan to be here 21 years later,” League said. “We come from pretty scrappy roots.”

After opening the original Alamo Drafthouse, League said he had no ambition to be a movie theater mogul. He was happy catering to the needs of Austin’s colony of film fans.

“For the first seven or eight years, I was sort of fixated on being an Austin theater. Austin was my town, my community,” League said. “I almost begrudgingly started to move out and expand.”

It was his love for independent films that helped convince him to look beyond Houston. One of the screens at the LaCenterra Alamo Drafthouse will be dedicated to the kind of small, art house films that might not make it to Houston otherwise.

“If we continue to grow and if we build the audience we built in Austin, we could be a real benefit to the independent film distributors,” League said. “We would be able to support movies nationwide. That’s exciting to me.”

While League is an art house fan, League acknowledged that blockbusters like “The Avengers” rather than boutique movies like “Dogville” pay the bills. But, Alamo Drafthouse will feature their trailers in the coming attractions before the latest film in the Star Wars franchise.

“We have one foot in the art house world and one foot in the straight-up commercial world,” he said. “I love them both and I’ll go see them both. To me, there doesn’t have to be a distinction.”

Another local Alamo Drafthouse is scheduled to open next year in Sugar Land.

“With every new theater we build, we figure out what’s working and what’s not working,” League said. “Alamo Drafthouse is a chain but I have a neurotic sensibility that I don’t like to go to chains. I want them all to have their own identity and their own personality.”

mike.glenn@chron.com

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