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Mall co-owners up the ante to put movie theater at Lynnfield’s MarketStreet

An artist rendering of the eight-screen cinema proposed for MarketStreet's open air mall off Route 128.
(Courtesy of National Development)

LYNNFIELD Eleven years after Town Meeting rejected plans for a movie theater at MarketStreet by 16 votes, the development team has upped the ante.

If the eight-screen theater is approved by voters in the next month, National Development and WS Development, the mall’s Newton-based co-owners, have agreed to spend $7 million to satisfy traffic, access, and parking issues at the popular mall off Route 128.

“We got lots of good input from the MarketStreet Advisory Committee, it was constructive and really helpful for us in thinking about how we move forward,” said Ted Tye, National’s managing partner. “The theater project proposal has changed as a result.”

While the concept remains the same, an 800-seat cinema with up to eight screens, the developers have agreed to several recommendations from the 13-member panel comprised of residents who made suggestions on zoning, economics, parking, and safety at the former 80-acre golf course.

At a cost of $1 million, the developments would install a smart signal system at three Walnut Street intersections. The mix of cameras, computers and sensors is designed to detect traffic patterns and improve traffic flow. The signals communicate with each other and adapt to changing road conditions to reduce the amount of time cars spend idling.

“It’s helpful at busy times because it allows traffic to flow freely,” Tye said. “And it helps during quiet times when motorists are frustrated waiting for a green light when no cars are there.”

Studies suggest these systems reduce the amount of idling time at lights by 40 percent and travel times across the city by 25 percent.

The team would improve the southbound ramp across from the entrance to MarketStreet. That’s where motorists are stopped by traffic entering the mall, and can’t easily take a right into town. In addition, they would build a 300-space parking garage next to the cinema at a cost of $6 million.

Unlike the Showcase Cinema in Woburn, MarketStreet’s theater would not be a large white ugly box, Tye said.

“The building we’re designing will be consistent with the MarketStreet design standards, it will not be a big white megaplex,” he said.

The theater and the garage would be built in the corner behind Wahlburgers and Gaslight.

“It’s meant to be tucked in the back, but also be in a place that feels like it belongs in MarketStreet,” Tye said. “It completes that back corner in an attractive way.”  

The theater would be operated by CMX Cinemas of Florida, which calls itself the eighth largest movie theater chain in the U.S. They offer in-theater dining and upholstered reclining seats.

“The theater is not the boogeyman,” Tye said. “A family-friendly environment is important to us.”

Some neighbors have said adding a theater to MarketStreet, which offers two dozen places to eat, and more than 60 stores, would exacerbate an already congested part of town at Route 128.

Anne Mitchell, a member of the Advisory Committee, said the panel did not take a position on whether the theater should be built.

MarketStreet Lynnfield calls for 395,000 square feet of retail space, 80,000 square feet of office space, and 180 luxury apartments. The 40,000-square-foot theater would substitute for half of the office space.

Resident Wallace McKenzie said the developer is asking for approval to add 40,000 more square feet of retail space and that’s a change from the original plan. He was also skeptical of the smart signal system.

“Police Chief Breen and the traffic consultant agreed the smart system would not help if there’s a high volume of traffic, and that’s what you will get with a movie theater,” he said. “You will get those peaks and there’s only so much space to put those cars through.”

The vote is scheduled for Town Meeting on Monday, April 29 at the Lynnfield Middle School at 7 p.m. Changing the zoning requires a two-thirds majority.

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