Exploring the Latest Trends in Entertainment – Chapter 4

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May 2024

by Theresa English, Principal

Not your Grandpa’s Bowling Alley

We started this series with a broad overview of why entertainment centers are important (LINK).  Chapter 2 brought you insights from the structural aspects (LINK) and Chapter 3 followed up with factors to consider from the MEP Engineering perspective (LINK).  Now I want to bring this series to a close with the thread that ties all the components together—learning and networking through entertainment focused trade shows. 

TK Architects has been designing entertainment complexes since our founder’s early days as a solo practitioner.  In fact, indications amongst exhibitors predicting entertainment’s relevance in the evolution of cinemas started long before Covid.  A worldwide pandemic crystalized the need for change to maintain the longevity of cinemas and to provide exhibitors a chance for income independent of the studio’s content supply stream.  The time is here, and more and more exhibitors are seeing the benefits and rewards of adding entertainment to their mix.

Bowl Expo

In recent years, the variety of amenities available for exhibitors/operators have significantly expanded. The appeal to clients is as diverse as the amenities.  By participating in Bowl Expo, we were able to see clients’ reactions in real time. I was not prepared to walk into the trade show hall and discover full bowling lanes set up as part of a trade show booth (little did I know what was in store for me later in the year). Numerous booths interspersed throughout showcased everything needed to run an entertainment center. There was ample networking and idea-sharing about the future of entertainment.  Surprisingly, there were fewer Food & Beverage booths than I expected. Overall, it is a great show I would recommend to anyone interested in bowling and entertainment.


Last Fall I went to IAAPA in Florida.  IAAPA encompasses a wide range of attractions, including entertainment centers, water parks, amusement parks, haunted houses, and arcades.  Walking in was quite an experience; imagine the size of six CinemaCon trade show floors combined into one room. Despite the expansive floor plan laid out before me, I still had to zoom in with my phone to read the names of individual vendors in each booth (thank you, guys, for color-coding the floor plan and the carpet).

There’s even an outdoor component featuring amusement rides, but the continuous rain throughout the week, unlike the typical 20-minute Florida afternoon showers, made viewing them a challenge. Some of the smaller rides are indoors, and the arcade games are set up free to play.  We got to check out some of the latest arcade attractions and hot new games.  Operators made sure to bring their official game testers –the kids!

With a couple days to explore I was able to see different aspects of the show:

  • Racing sims were a pretty hot topic this year and the variety of sizes and types of screens they come with equally varied. 
  • I witnessed a captivating water and laser show that could potentially be used for queuing purposes.
  • Complete bowling and duckpin lanes, including demonstrations of how hard it is to really tangle the string setters.
  • Roller coaster cars being unveiled.
  • Flying sims require fans and some crazy looking gear.
  • Arcade games both coin and redemption of all types and styles for every age.  Even a claw game for mini-booze.
  • Baseball, golf, soccer, cycling and football virtual reality or sims if your guests are looking for something more active.
  • I got to go on my first dark ride, an immersive 3D experience with motion seats and gaming interaction.  The motion seats were powered by a familiar name from the cinema world—DBox.


Familiar faces at booths of vendors we already work with both in cinema and entertainment were a pleasure to encounter.  Seeing new products and discussing potential use was thought-provoking.  Walking with clients to see what was intriguing to them and hearing why they wanted to know more about a particular amenity or attraction was illuminating.  Experiencing the massive trade show that is IAAPA should be on everyone’s entertainment bucket list but be sure to pack your most comfortable shoes!

Dine-In Cinema Summit

As we reflect on the past year, it’s evident that TKA cultivated an exceptional journey filled with new experiences in the entertainment sector.  We have witnessed the continuous growth and integration of the entertainment side of the business.  We anticipate this integration to expand steadily, merging with other aspects of cinema experience. In fact, Dine-in Cinema Summit has added a day designated to discussing entertainment centers!  I had the opportunity to share with fellow architects and general contractors some of the construction costs associated with entertainment centers at Dine-In. 


The conversation continued at CinemaCon this year where I was able to participate in a panel hosted by the International Cinema Technology Association.  Each panelist shared different pieces of the puzzle of what it means to put an entertainment center together. Whether for new construction or renovation projects, participants shared wonderful information for the attendees.


We are so excited to engage with an increasing number of owners on the intersection of cinema and entertainment.  Exploring the potential for designing distinctive and personalized experiences at that intersection is thrilling. Additionally, we are delving back into what standalone entertainment entails. Whether, you are just starting your entertainment journey or refining your path, we encourage you to reach out to us!

What’s next?

We are looking forward to another Bowl Expo coming up in July, this year in Denver Colorado.  Conference is June 29-July 3rd, Trade Show is July 1st and 2nd.  This time we will be sharing a booth with our vendor friends from Proctor Company, booth #907 .  If you plan to attend, we would love to schedule a meeting.  Please stop by and say hello when you are there. 

Check out the article in the Cinema Technology Magazine from last winter (ARTICLE)!

Theresa English, Principal

How To Overcome Structural Challenges: FEC Conversion – Chapter 3

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October 2023

by Steve Petracek, Principal

The Engineering Side of Things

Now that we have seen the architectural view of a Family Entertainment Center (FEC) conversion, the next logical step is to jump into the structural aspects. The benefits of an FEC conversion may be lost, if the modifications to the structure can’t be made. I have learned the best thing is to be flexible. Typically, we can achieve the outcome in most cases, but maybe not as planned originally.

The most intrusive element in the structure is the demising wall. Below are some general structural approaches to addressing existing demising walls. These tactics are dependent on the size and location of openings. Possible options include:

  • CIP conc: A solid wall, typically used to carry gravity and lateral loads, has the potential to add openings without excessive work.
  • Precast: Another solid wall system used to carry gravity and lateral loads, usually in widths of 8′ to 10′ sections. These are easier to modify as removing a complete section is possible; coordination of openings with the panel joints is required.
  • Tilt Wall: The same approach as used with CIP concrete.
  • CMU: Concrete Masonry Units are like concrete walls, but with unreinforced cells, intermittent steel reinforcing has an added challenge for wall capacity and use of anchor types.
  • Steel: The easiest and possibly the most troublesome at the same time. Typically, it is never an issue to remove the infill light gauge framing to enlarge the volume. In some cases, though, an X-brace is in the wall. Both the steel columns and X-bracing, which is a pretty cool feature, will need to remain.

The auditoriums themselves are typically straightforward, with the auditorium seating platforms able to be removed completely. Whether framed with structural steel, light gauge, or foam, reclaiming auditorium space is typically straightforward and requiring only demolition. Removing or filling a sloped floor is a simple fix to create a level surface at the required elevation.

Some difficulty comes into play with using the space under the mezzanine framing. There usually are columns between the demising walls to accommodate mezzanine offsets, steps, or reduce beam spans. In most cases, removing mezzanine columns can be completed with the correct reinforcing. Typically, removing one column requires two columns to be added.

To keep costs lower and downtime less, the location of the new framing is critical. The best solution is to design the new framing as the shoring element and the final condition framing. Having a contractor on board during the initial design phase is beneficial as they can provide guidelines or limitations on what they can do. Such as the maximum lifting weight, achievable framing lengths, and numerous other construction coordination requirements they are in control of that will push costs up or down.

Framing around kitchens is always a challenge. Owners want an open floor plan, with a preference for kitchen operation. That can be a problem based on the column interferences mentioned above. Coordination with a kitchen vendor early on to work on keeping unobstructed paths is recommended. Additionally, added kitchens require new rooftop equipment, typically supported by existing roof joists. In most cases, these joists do not have much additional capacity beyond their original design, requiring coordination with kitchen equipment to locate them efficiently and safely.

In summary, with Family Entertainment Centers becoming the next big thing, retrofitting an existing theatre is an excellent opportunity to bring in additional revenue. Bowling, arcade/redemption, axe throwing, laser tag, etc. provide diverse revenue streams that can be established for year-round, all-day business and an existing auditorium is an excellent place to find the space.

Steve Petracek, Principal

FEC Conversion: Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing

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by Trevor Ruhnke, Principal

January, 15th 2024

Welcome back! If you’ve been following along, you know we’ve been on a journey of transformation, exploring the prospect of turning a section of your traditional theatre into a dynamic entertainment facility. We have delved into the architectural and structural aspects, laying the ground work for a space that promises a multitude of revenue stream opportunities. As we continue our exploration, it’s time to shift our spotlight backstage — the Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing systems. In this next installment of our blog series we reflect on the intricate dance of these systems and how their modification plays a pivotal role in bringing our entertainment projects to life!


Auditorium HVAC systems are designed to serve large numbers of people at high density within the space. This design translates very well to an entertainment concept. Although the number of customers is reduced, there is an offsetting increase in the needed cooling load from games and other electrical equipment. Often, the existing equipment may be re-used to serve the new space’s layout.  However, evaluations of the equipment are warranted at this time. If the equipment is near the end of its useful life, replacement with newer, more efficient, equipment during the construction phase will be less impactful. Replacement equipment will also be tailored to the new layouts and required loads. Any new equipment may remain in the original location to help reduce cost and impact.

Although ductwork and distribution systems would often continue to function appropriately, the aesthetics may be poor. Many entertainment complexes utilize an open ceiling concept. Ductwork designed for above ceiling installation is typically rectangular with flexible ductwork extending to ceiling mounted diffusers. In an open ceiling situation large round ductwork painted to match the structure is normally seen. However, in some situations the ductwork may be painted a contrasting color matching the rest of the facility to provide another element of interest.

Facility changes often also include expanded food and beverage options. If the facility does not already have a kitchen or cooking options, this is the time to add them. If cooking is limited, expanding the cookline and menu is a good pair with the new entertainment options. This typically includes a true Kitchen exhaust system with grease hoods like you find in restaurants. While cooklines are traditionally located in the back of house areas they can also be in view of the customers adding a unique visual element.


Many parts of the entertainment complex have high electrical demands whether that is from arcade games, bowling equipment, or general AV equipment. Luckily, auditoriums also have a high electrical demand. Although the requirements are different between the two space types often the original Theater electrical distribution is adequate for most conversions.

Often electrical panels serving auditoriums are located on the mezzanine near the projection equipment. If the mezzanine is to be retained during the renovation, it is possible they can be re-used. However, it may be more cost efficient to relocate or replace the panels and install them closer to the new equipment. If the mezzanine spaces are to be removed for the new space design new electrical distribution is generally needed. Replacement of a portion of the distribution can allow for better consolidation of circuits and a more efficient and cost-effective construction.

Bowling systems generally require additional electrical infrastructure. Additional panels are needed to separate the pin equipment and scoring equipment. There is a difference in electrical load requirements between traditional bowling equipment and newer string type systems. While electrical modifications do not typically drive the choice of options to include in an entertainment renovation, careful consideration can help minimize the cost impact.


Renovation from auditoriums to entertainment often leads to a reduction in the code required occupant count. This means the total number of required restrooms is reduced. Since the restrooms are often located near the promenade, they may need to be relocated to accommodate the open floor needed for the entertainment concept. New restroom locations must be coordinated with the slope of the underfloor piping system and that can dictate the final locations.

If the facility does not already have a kitchen, then a grease waste system and grease trap will be required. Traditionally adding the system requires a grease trap installed outside of the building. In some instances, with a smaller cooking operation an in-floor model may be acceptable. Whichever system is included, periodic grease removal and maintaining the trap is of utmost importance.

If a bar or kitchen is added during the renovation, this often requires significant removal of the floor in on grade buildings to facilitate installation of piping. This is needed for drainage, drink line conduits, and sometimes water piping. Coordination between Architectural and MEP design can help remove some of these requirements, helping to lower costs.


In conclusion, there is no doubt that converting auditoriums into Entertainment Centers is the next big thing in the Cinema industry. These transformations mean patrons are staying longer and spending mor money in your facilities. What’s not to like about that!!

Trevor , Principal

Lessons Learned and the Way Forward in the Wake of the Pandemic

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September 2021 Michael Cummings, Sr. Principal

I was fortunate to participate in an International Cinema Technology Association panel discussion at CinemaCon.  ICTA President Frank Tees served as the moderator and ICTA Vice President (International) Jan Runge interviewed Thomas Van de Weerd, proprietor of the (Any)thing cinema with their first private cinema located in the Netherlands.  I was joined on the panel by creative, passionate, and driven exhibitors Tim League of Alamo Drafthouse, Bobbie Bagby of B&B Theatres, and (via video) Crispin Lilly of Medi-Cinema and former CEO of Everyman Cinema.

The exhibition perspective on lessons learned and the way forward was well represented, and I focused on the design perspective.  Four specific design lessons learned are touchless service, prioritizing cleanliness, importance of ventilation, and the increased role of technology.  Some aspects were going to occur eventually anyway, but the pandemic accelerated their implementation. 

Let us now turn to the fun design stuff

Touchless Lobby and Concessions

The transition to technologically enabled touchless service was occurring before the onset of Covid, but its adaptation was greatly accelerated.  The lobby and concessions envisioned below uses large graphics for visibility throughout the lobby, QR codes coupled with loyalty apps for ordering, and separated pickup conveniently around the corner.  The concession preparation area is enclosed with glass providing customer visibility into the kitchen while maintaining separation, cleanliness and avoiding direct contact between concessionaires and customers. 

What else have we learned from the pandemic? Without diving deeply into exhibition, the business partnership between studios and exhibitors has changed; by necessity during the “closure/lockdown” portion of the pandemic, and new rules on the relationship continue to evolve.  There is no doubt that this new relationship will result in a need for fewer auditoriums.  Movies will be in theatres for shorter periods and there will also likely be fewer exclusive theatrical release titles.  This should incentivize exhibitors to utilize auditoriums (and/or auditorium and lobby space) for other sources of revenue.     Among the diverse revenue-generating concepts are: 

E Sports & Gaming

This is not an arcade but a competitive eSports and/or gaming space.  It can be a competitive coliseum (like the first image) or a more socially oriented space.  Either approach works well with auditorium-sized spaces, as well as for other uses and content.  These fast-growing markets will surely bring new customers to your facilities.


Virtual reality, augmented reality, and/or mixed reality are key components of entertainment.  These gaming focused applications of technology are also “spectator sports’ and should be coupled with a bar and extended food service.  VR/AR/MR have also shown to be an effective medium for storytelling under the direction of skilled filmmakers.  There are exciting developments underway. 

Private Cinema (Flexible use Auditoriums)

Private Cinema rental existed prior to the pandemic but provided a real lifeline to exhibition during it.  What if you designed small auditorium spaces for a variety of uses including traditional private cinema?  They are in essence a private entertainment space that can include first-run feature films, legacy films, subscription service entertainment, sports, music, esports, and other events, meeting space, karaoke, and virtual reality.  The key is designing them to provide multiple uses. 

Adult Lounge

Many cinemas already include bars and expanded food services. What about providing adjacent entertainment options to keep customers there longer. Options include duckpin and mini-bowling, darts, billiards, pickleball, interactive walls, ax throwing, ping pong, foosball, air hockey, yard-zee, chess, Jenga, shuffleboard, cornhole, bocce, and countless others.

Outdoor Space as Revenue Generating

Can the space outside your building also be used to generate revenue?  If you changed your theatre from traditional to recliner seating, you may have more parking spaces than you need. Perhaps part of that space can be converted to revenue generation.  Drive-in theatres were the most common use during the pandemic.  Many people remain more comfortable gathering in outdoor spaces than indoor.  These combine to create a unique opportunity to monetize the parking lot and create a new first impression of your facility for your customers. 

Exhibition will be forever changed by the Pandemic.   It has survived for more than a century because it is resilient and changes with the times.  I believe that we have entered a new period of reinvention, and innovation.  Spurred by entrepreneurial exhibitors like Thomas Van de Weerd, Tim League, Bobbie Bagby-Ford, Crispin Lilly, and others who will be leading the way into the future and the next big things for exhibition. 

Michael Cummings Sr. Principal