3 YEARS AFTER: Opinions on Aurora theater’s reopening remain sharply divided locally three years after massacre


AURORA | There’s nothing extraordinary about passing through the dim threshold of Theater I at the Century Aurora 16 movie theater these days.

The welcoming smell of fabricated butter and other quintessential concessions coats the air as moviegoers march into the darkness, some in an excited trot so as not to miss the coveted previews. In the background, the garish games of the “Starcade” wail with buzzers and bleeps that signal minute victories and defeats. Baby-faced employees scamper around the lobby sporting black Cinemark-branded polos. This week, the screen of Theater I — also a special “extreme digital” facility — glows with “Minions” in 3D.

AS.Century16.7837.071615It’s taken time for that seemingly standard scene from Anywhere, U.S.A. to apply to the theater at 14300 E. Alameda Ave., formerly known as the Century 16. Public opinions on the fate of the movie theater at the Town Center at Aurora remain indefatigably split more than 1,000 days after a lone gunman barged into a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” killing 12 people and wounding 70 others.

For some, no amount of weeks, months or years will ever be enough to make the theater just another under-lit place to see a movie. It’s a place stained with too much tragedy, too much loss, too much heartache.

“I don’t even drive down that street, and I avoid the mall, too,” wrote Daisy Rothschild, an employee of the National Weather Service, in a response to a recent Aurora Sentinel Facebook post that asked followers about their thoughts on the Century Aurora. “They should have torn it down or made a memorial there.”

But for others, the theater remains what it’s always been: a temporary, entertaining escape.

“I still go (to the theater) frequently, about twice a month,” wrote Sarah Tomase, a project coordinator at the engineering firm Stanley Consultants, on the same Facebook post. “Love the new chairs. Same friendly employees and low prices. It’s probably the safest cinema in the U.S.A. right now.”

Much of the discord is tied to the decision of the theater’s parent company, Texas-based Cinemark Holdings, to keep the facility open following six months of renovations after the massacre. Shortly before the theater reopened on Jan. 17, 2013 with a screening of “The Hobbit,” family members of nine shooting victims sent a letter to Cinemark decrying the event.

“Our family members will never be on this earth again, and a movie ticket and some token words from people who didn’t care enough to reach out to us, nor respond when we reach out to them to talk, is appalling,” the families wrote. “We, the families, recognize your thinly veiled publicity ploy for what it is: A great opportunity for you to distance yourselves and divert public scrutiny from your culpability in this massacre.”

The choice to keep the theater open at least partially stemmed from a public survey the city released two months after the shooting, which asked respondents what the future should hold for the building.

The subject of fault has been a predominant point of contention for Cinemark in the years since the shooting at theater 9 — the Aurora facility has since changed from a numerical naming system to an alphabetical one — and currently faces multiple lawsuits from victims claiming a lack of security at the theater led to the slayings.

The Aurora Century 16 Theatre. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora SentinelLast year, a federal judge denied a request made by Cinemark to dismiss the lawsuits. However, all litigation related to the shootings is postponed until after a verdict on the fate of the accused killer is reached. A former doctoral candidate in neruoscience at the University of Colorado, James Holmes faces 166 counts, including first-degree murder and attempted murder.

For moviegoers such as Angela Milano, the path forward is one made in incremental steps.

“We still go there,” the Denver-based massage therapist wrote on Facebook. “It gets a little easier every time. Baby steps. However, we cannot find it within ourselves to be in (the extreme digital) theater.”

Cinemark did not return multiple requests for comment on this story.

— Staff Writer Brandon Johansson contributed to this report.

3 YEARS AFTER: A look at Aurora and Colorado after the July 20, 2012 Aurora theater shooting

3 YEARS AFTER: Aurora Strong Resilience Center remains space for survivors, residents to support each other

3 YEARS AFTER: Campaign for Aurora 7/20 memorial fund continues uphill climb

3 YEARS AFTER: Beer fest honoring Aurora theater shooting victim Alex Teves benefit forges strong bond

3 YEARS AFTER: Opinions on Aurora theater’s reopening remain sharply divided locally three years after massacre

3 YEARS AFTER: Renewed debate expected for post-Aurora theater shooting gun reforms

3 YEARS AFTER: PERRY: Aurora theater shooting verdict delivered nothing to ease the pain

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

I thought they were going to change the name of this news paper to the “”Holmes”” Sentinel?

7 years ago

Three years ago today, I happened to be on twitter during the wee hours of
the morning. My middle son had gone to see a midnight screening of
Batman at a nearby theater with his friends. Another young friend I know
was at the Century 16 theater tweeting, “Something’s wrong. Sounded
like shots. People are running outside. We’re in the parking lot” (or
words to that effect). I tuned to the emergency services radio and
listened as the chaos, the terror, and the rescue and recoveries played
out over the next hour or two.

An hour later, still no word from my son… I had no idea which Aurora theater he and his friends went to, to see the movie. I had heard that the closest one was to us was
sold out, and the overflow attendees were sent to the Century 16 (where the shootings occurred).

My son made it home safely after having enjoyed the movie at Southlands theater, completely unaware of the horrors at the other theater about five miles from our house, and wondering why I and so many other people were on social media in the
middle of the night, hysterical. In the hours to come, we learned
someone my son knew from high school lost his father. A family in the
next neighborhood over lost their son. Another friend’s friend was in
critical condition with half of her abdomen blown away. The stories kept
coming… Our friend who was in the next theater room over was
physically unharmed but very upset, as were hundreds of other survivors
in the theater that night.

Over that summer, my friends and I made thousands of memorial ribbons and passed them out near the shooting site. We prayed with, and cried with, visitors who came from all over the country. We attended some of the funerals. Our community was
devastated. Aurora is a wonderful community of caring people — how
could something so evil and so random happen here? And how could it happen
AGAIN, just a handful of years, and a handful of miles, after the
shooting at Columbine High School???

I am reminded often it could have been my son and his friends killed that night. In the three years that have passed, I’ve become friends with many of the survivors
and their families. I’ve talked to emergency personnel who will never
forget the sounds, the sights, the smells, and the horror of that
evening People whose lives changed forever that day. People who are
traumatized again and again every time another shooting happens
somewhere in the world. People who do not have all the answers, but who
are absolutely committed to preventing this tragedy from happening to
your family — and to my family — in the future.

Let us never forget the victims of the terrible tragedy that happened in Aurora, and
the love that poured into the community in the months and years that
followed. Let us never forget how important our loved ones are, and how
they could be taken from us in a flash…. in a heartbeat… in the
sound of just one bullet. Let us wrap our loving arms around the
survivors and their families.. today, tomorrow, and forever. Let us
learn from this event, and do what we can to prevent another. Let there
be love.

Denver Goddess
Denver Goddess
7 years ago
Reply to  njcronk

I was asleep. Woke up at 6 am and looked at CNN when I was about to step out to work. I was shocked.

This again.

During the day I saw enough TV coverage about it to where I developed a pretty severe headache and had to turn it off.

Denver Goddess
Denver Goddess
7 years ago

What’s fabricated butter? They use real butter for the popcorn.

Denver Goddess
Denver Goddess
7 years ago

I began going to this theater after it reopened.

I wasn’t going to go initially but began to as a combination of a form of protest that people were boycotting, suing, blaming, and politicizing the facility. Also because I want to support them and give them my money. They are victims as well. I immediately realized the value in defying someone like Holmes and reopening that facility, so my first visit there I bought a ticket to the movie in the XD theater (formerly theater 9) and marched right in. Yes – it felt weird but it also quickly felt normal because I realized the original character of the place was still there. The weird feeling faded quickly and was replaced by one of comfort and happiness that people were returning and not allowing themselves to be frightened away.

I most recently went this morning, July 20, 2015, on 3rd anniversary day, and saw Ant Man in XD.

It didn’t take long after I began going there to realize the worth of its being opened again. The theater itself where it happened is a 354-seat classroom. Being there, I developed a thirst to want to know what happened and began reading as much as I could about it, trying to understand why and what could have been done. Before then, I hadn’t bothered to read much on it.

I don’t know where else a person could go to learn and empathize with that happened to those people in that intimate of a way. I was bothered for several months in that every time I went there, it strongly impacted me that it was a tragedy that need not have happened. Perhaps if someone had carried a firearm that night? Who knows? The thought of it sickened and angered me. I nearly cried a few times thinking about it. I only didn’t cry because I made an effort to stop myself.

When the community of Aurora chose to reopen this facility, it sent a message that it will not be stepped on as has the jury in the Holmes trial. That jury – which chose a Columbine survivor as its foreman – is angry and they are going to give Holmes his due justice which is the death penalty. There is no doubt about it.

Yes, the theater could have closed, but I think people voted it to be reopened not because they were cold-hearted toward victims like some victims think, but rather as a matter of principle; nobody wants to let this punk take more away than he already has, and taking the theater back is a symbolic act of recouping something from him he tried to destroy.

Having that theater there is a sign of FAIL for James Holmes. That clown couldn’t even get a theater closed, and I think that’s hilarious. Why close it and essentially run away from it, letting him win?

Go see a movie in XD and get some popcorn! Win!!

The place has received a lot of TLC and people have brought back the positivity and warmth. It’s a very comfortable theater and it still feels like a good old fashioned American movie theater, even with its “stains.” Why allow a monster to trample our spirit? Not even.

I understand folks disagree with this, and I don’t think one point of view is totally right or totally wrong. I have a co-worker who was friends with one of the deceased victims. Oddly, this person is against the death penalty and I am all for it and can’t wait for the Holmes sentencing to see the animal get what is coming. Go figure.

7 years ago

Some Different Ways of on-o-r-s-e-n-i-n-e-

7 years ago

How could the theater itself possibly be culpable? You want security guards in each theater? Be ready to pay $25 a ticket. You want to provide your own security? Convince the chain to allow CCW. Good luck with that. A theater is a theater with a manager, a guy in the projection area, and a couple teens selling popcorn. You know that going in, live with the risk.