SOUTH PORTLAND – The seven-screen Maine Mall Cinema was once one of the most popular theater complexes in the state.
Pastors at the Eastpointe Christian Church hope the cinema, which shut down in 2002, will become one of the most popular churches in Maine. The new nondenominational church is leasing the cinema, and plan are to hold services beginning this month.
The Maine Mall area – the home to countless retailers, chain restaurants, big-box stores and the priciest commercial real estate in Maine – may seem like an unlikely spot for a church. But church officials said the building’s large lobby, theater seating and easy-to-find location make it an ideal spot.
“If there was any better place in this area that you could start a church than this, we don’t know what it would be,” said Jerry Snavely, youth pastor for Eastpointe.
The cinema closed its doors in November 2002 after 27 years in business. The church is leasing the 4.5-acre property from General Growth Properties, which also owns The Maine Mall across the street from the theater.
Snavely and Scott Taube, the church’s pastor, moved from Ohio to Maine to start the church. Snavely said two theaters in the building would be used for Sunday services, one for worship and another for Sunday school classes. The lobby will serve as a play area for younger children, and the snack bar area will be a gathering place.
Snavely and Taube said they are hoping for a strong turnout from people curious about the church – and the location.
“It wasn’t the intent in taking the cinema, the novelty,” he said. “If that’s the attitude they come with, it’s OK. We hope the spirit takes them.”
The theater’s parking lot has been used by International House of Pancakes, Pizza Hut and Maine Mall Motors since the theater shut down. General Growth Properties has received inquires about the property, but has not made a determination on its long-term use, said David Faulkner, the mall’s general manager.
Drew Sigfirdson, a broker with The Boulos Co., said it might prove difficult for a nonprofit to pay the high cost for a prime piece of commercial real estate. But, he added, churches sometimes have deeper pockets than people may think.
The Boulos Co. in 2002 brokered the sale of an abandoned Hoyts movie theater in Waterville to Faith Evangelical Free Church in Oakland. Sigfirdson said the church paid more than $800,000 for the building.