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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 18, 2001

Film fan Shimmin steers Consolidated Theatres empire

By Glenn Scott
Advertiser Staff Writer

In the domed lobby of the not-quite-completed Consolidated Ward 16 Theatre yesterday, dozens of craftsmen assembled fixtures, installed flooring and finished the entryway into the $40 million entertainment center.

Phil Shimmin, Consolidated president, takes a break from the rush to get the Ward 16 ready for next Friday's opening. With the theater opening, he'll become vice chairman of Consolidated's board of directors.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Just a week from today, the huge megaplex is to open to thousands of Memorial Day weekend customers, perhaps as many as 30,000 people over the three-day weekend. This would have been an excellent moment for Phil Shimmin to race around like some hyper-excitable character in a cartoon.

Instead, the man who has served as president of Consolidated Theatres for the past dozen years sat inside one of the spacious new screening rooms, easing into a high-backed, scarlet-colored seat. From there, he recalled that almost every theater opening during his 40-year tenure in the business has arrived with the same hectic rush.

Experience, he said, has taught him not to worry. Instead, Shimmin offered the distinct impression that he was savoring the high-energy scene leading up to the opening of a building he predicted would become the flagship theater complex in Hawai'i.

Just as the facility represents what the executive called the last move in Consolidated's recent expansion strategy in the Islands, where the company now operates 15 locations and a total of 101 screens, it also marks a career climax of sorts for Shimmin.

In a company restructuring timed to occur with the Ward 16 opening, Shimmin is taking the title of vice chairman of Consolidated's board of directors, yielding supervision of day-to-day activities to Glenn Yim, who takes over as regional director of operations. Christopher Forman, chief executive officer of parent company Pacific Theatres, assumes the Consolidated presidency from his Los Angeles office.

Shimmin said he's looking forward to the shift, joking that after 40 years dealing with the economic cycles of the entertainment industry and the demands of daily showtimes, "the metabolism rate is going down a little."

In that same tone, the executive who became a well-known news figure here described himself yesterday as more of a fan than a film expert, conceding that in contests to pick Academy Award winners, he usually finishes last.

Shimmin's career spanned more than a few evolutions in the theater industry. He broke into the business as a 19-year-old usher in Encino, Calif., seating people coming to see Marlon Brando's "One-Eyed Jacks."

After more than two decades with Pacific Theaters management in Los Angeles, Shimmin was stunned when offered the chance to come to Hawai'i in 1987 to help operate Consolidated, a subsidiary that had long been the dominant theater company in the state.

He needed several days before agreeing to the change.

Workers prepare the lobby at the Consolidated Ward 16 Theatres. Outdoor-style lighting is intended to give the domed structure the feeling of an open courtyard. The movie chain has a total of 101 screens in Hawai'i.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I never made a better decision in my life for me or my family," he said. "I love it here. It's home and always will be."

Shimmin arrived to find a market where per capita moviegoing figures generally exceeded the average on the Mainland, even during periods in the past decade when the state's economy sputtered.

One reason for above-average attendance: Residents here were slow to embrace television programming after three decades of delayed broadcasts.

"People leaned more on movies," he said.

Consolidated officials are betting customers will continue to flock to movies, partly to enjoy the chance to get away from home and partly to share in the transforming effects that come with images on big screens, large crowds and the shared emotions in a room full of strangers.

As for the new Ward Center location, Shimmin said the combination of state-of-the-art theaters and nearby shops and restaurants should provide enough attraction to lure residents from all over O'ahu, as well as tourists from Waikiki.

He calls the location "a great recipe for entertainment."

The new complex, in fact, may eventually make Consolidated's older theaters in Waikiki obsolete. Shimmin said the company is looking at whether its centrally located 100,000 square feet of commercial space is more productively suited for other retail uses.

As an example of how the theater business follows cycles, Consolidated official noted that Waikiki Theatres No. 1 and 2 opened 31 years ago by showing an action film highlighting the start of World War II, "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

Next Friday, when the first audiences spill into the finished Ward Center complex, many will be there to see "Pearl Harbor."