Entertaining The Inner City

Donzell Starks partners with Cineplex to bring movies to urban Chicago

Who says Magic Johnson has a lock on bringing movies to the inner city? Not Donzell Starks, who orchestrated a slam dunk deal of his own with Cineplex Odeon to bring the first African American-owned movie theater chain to Chicago’s inner city.

Starks, president and CEO of Inner City Entertainment Inc. (ICE), partnered with Cineplex in a $36 million deal to build three multiscreen movie theaters in the Chicago neighborhoods of Chatham, North Lawndale and Chicago Lawn. Construction of the theaters is scheduled to begin early this year.

Starks, a 36-year-old investment banker with 12 years experience in the industry, will own 100% of the theaters. He received a $28 million loan from South Shore Bank and G.E. Capital Corp. to help finance the deal with Cineplex Odeon. For operating the three theaters, Cineplex Odeon will receive an undisclosed percentage.

Starks came into contact with Cineplex Odeon in early 1994, when both he and Cineplex officials expressed an interest in developing a movie theater complex on an inner-city Chicago lot. Home Depot had an option on the property, but sold the property to Cineplex Odeon once Starks was connected to it. Cineplex then offered Starks the option of developing two other Chicago sites, which will all be ICE-owned and Cineplex- operated. Starks says he has an exclusive agreement with Cineplex to develop inner-city theaters throughout the country.

“If you’re a relatively small business and want to grow,” Starks adds, “then it pays to bring a major player into the project. We bring them a connection and an understanding of the marketplace they want to break into. They have powerful relationships, and can bring us the first-run movies that we need to have.”

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