The bright “Century 16” lights that shined over Aurora for more than a decade are gone.
Crews pulled the lights down last week as part of a redesign aimed at drastically changing the way the now-infamous theater looks. And plans filed with the city early this month show the theater’s owners, Cinemark, Inc., are planning a major redesign of the particular auditorium where a gunman opened fire July 20, killing 12 and wounding more than 50.
When it reopens, theater No. 9 will be the centerpiece of the revamped movie hall, one of Cinemark’s “extreme digital cinemas,” which feature massive screens that stretch from wall to wall and floor to ceiling.
But the idea of reopening the theater has left some frustrated, including those who lost friends and loved ones inside the theater that night.
“What the owners of the Century 16 are doing is highly disrespectful,” said Stephaney Wacker, whose friend, A.J. Boik was killed in theater No. 9. “There should be a memorial at the theater, it would help some of us heal.”
Wacker said she would rather see the theater torn down than redesigned and reopened, particularly theater No. 9.
Some have argued that closing the theater for good or tearing it down would amount to letting accused shooter James Holmes win. But Wacker said she doesn’t buy that argument.
Holmes didn’t go to the theater that night looking to shut it down, he went there to kill people, she said.
“It’s not about letting the bad guy win, it’s about respecting the twelve victims that were lost,” she said. “How could anyone go into theater nine and enjoy a movie, knowing innocent people were murdered in there?”
Still, others said they are looking forward to going back to the theater when it reopens, in part to make a statement about the community moving forward after the tragedy.
Kris Call, 42, lost her friend Rebecca Wingo in the theater that night and said she is glad to see the theater will reopen.
“Knowing Rebecca and her family, she would not want to see this theater torn down,” she said.
The community needs to move forward after the shootings, and reopening the theater and getting on with normal life is a part of that, she said.
Call grew up in Aurora and lives in Centennial now, but she said she will definitely make a trip back to the theater when it reopens, in large part to make a statement about the community moving forward.
“I will definitely go out and support Century 16 — or whatever they are going to call it now — just because of this, because I want to show them that I am in support of their decision,” she said. “And I believe the victims would have wanted it that way. But, they’re not here for me to ask.”
Mara Kailin, a psychologist at Aurora Mental Health Center, said that among people who were in the theater when the shooting occurred, feelings about the building, and whether to return, will run the gamut.
“People are all very different and they all have very different feelings about the place where the trauma happened,” she said.
For some people, going back to the theater might be an important part of the healing process, she said. Others might feel the opposite.
“Certainly there will always be a contingent of people that never want to go back to the theater, whether or not it’s redesigned. They want to have nothing to do with it,” she said.
That feeling can go for theaters in general, not just this one, she said.
And while the theater might look completely different than it did the night of the shootings, she said it may still trigger some difficult feelings for people who were there.
“Sometimes people don’t even realize that they are going to be triggered or reminded of the event until it happens,” she said. “It could be a smell or a sound that suddenly brings them back to that moment.”
Just how different the theater will seem to moviegoers isn’t clear from the more than 150 pages of plans Cinemark filed with the city in early October. The documents are largely technical, and deal with a variety of standard building issues like where electrical outlets will be, handicap accessibility and bathroom plans.
But the documents do show that the project will be pricey — materials alone will cost $950,000. That’s equal to more than 25 percent of the theater’s $3.5 million appraised value.
The plans also call for designating each of the 16 theaters by letter instead of number. In the case of what was theater No. 9, it will be designated “Theater XD,” the plans say.
While that theater will have a new massive screen and high-tech sound system, it will also have fewer seats — 360 compared to the 421 that the original plans in 1997 called for.
On the outside, a mural will replace the massive illuminated “16” on the front of the building, but the plans don’t specify what the mural will be.
Crews have been working on the theater for several days, pulling down the old lights and signs as well as working inside the building. Security around the theater remains tight, with several security officers patrolling the area and checking workers as they come through a gate.
City officials said an online survey after the shootings showed overwhelming support for reopening the theater and Cinemark’s CEO said in September that the company would open the theater again, hopefully around the end of the year.
While the plans filed with the city call for substantial changes to the theater, they don’t mention a memorial. And officials from Cinemark have been largely silent about the topic, other than the letter CEO Tim Warner sent to Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan in September.
In his letter, Warner didn’t mention a memorial, but he did say Cinemark planned to improve the theater.
“It will be our privilege to re-open the theater. We pledge to reconfigure the space and make the theater better than ever,” he wrote.
A Cinemark spokesman has ducked phone calls from reporters since the shootings, and officials from the general contractor leading the project and the architecture firm behind the new design declined to comment last week.
Mayor Hogan said he hasn’t heard of plans for a memorial at the theater, but he said no matter what Cinemark does inside the theater, city officials are also working on a separate memorial. Where that will be, what it will look like and when it might be complete are all still up in the air, he said.
“Whatever the theater does, there will be discussions about something more,” he said.