The Lefont Sandy Springs movie theater is getting a new owner, a new name and major upgrades in the end of an arthouse era for metro Atlanta – and maybe the beginning of a new one.
George Lefont has sold his namesake theater on Sandy Springs Circle and retired after more than 40 years of running well-known art-film cinemas around town. New owner Brandt Gully is an East Cobb resident who brokers entertainment venue funding for a living and is taking his first shot at running his own theater. The new name: The Springs Cinema & Taphouse.
“I have significant renovation plans to really overhaul it physically, while maintaining a lot of things that have made it a popular and special part of the community,” Gully said.
A full bar, “luxury electric recliners” and a total façade and interior renovation are among the coming upgrades, he said. The new name and related branding likely will launch after the renovations.
Staying on as manager, Gully said, is Bill Tush, who had a previous career as a well-known comedic host and entertainment reporter on CNN and TBS.
George Lefont ran several legendary arthouse theaters that were – or still are — important parts of metro Atlanta’s cultural fabric, starting in 1976 with his Silver Screen in Buckhead. Other theaters that he formerly owned include the landmark Plaza Theatre, still Atlanta’s oldest continuously operating theater; the Screening Room; and the Garden Hills Cinema. Lefont Sandy Springs was his last remaining theater.
Lefont declined immediate comment about the sale. But in a post on the theater’s Facebook page, he expressed some feelings in classic movie quotes: “Here’s looking at you kid. No business like show business and the show must go on.”
He also said of Gully, “We wish him all the best success, his success is our success and please continue to support the theater.”
The theater is located in the Parkside Shops shopping center at 5920 Roswell Road, but in the rear facing Sandy Springs Circle. According to Gully, the theater opened in 1987 as a General Cinemas, later changing hands and sitting vacant for a time. Lefont bought it in 2004.
As Lefont Sandy Springs, it became a staple of local art-film culture, including as an anchor site for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, which Gully said will continue to be hosted. Its format includes the option to buy beer, wine and food to enjoy during the movie.
Gully’s background is in securing funding for construction and renovation of movie theaters and other entertainment venues, including at the large corporation GE Capital, and working with such major chains as AMC and General Cinemas. In 2009, he started his own business, EFA Partners, to help venues broker funding. Among local companies he has worked with are the CineBistro at Town Brookhaven theater and the Topgolf golf-oriented entertainment complexes.
Gully bought the Lefont Sandy Springs himself, not on behalf of any investor, after developing a friendship with George Lefont. He once arranged some renovation funding for the theater, and Lefont offered him some office space there, which Gully occupied for three years.
“I saw first-hand what an interesting following” the theater has, Gully said, and he got a taste of the excitement of running a theater.
For the past few years, Gully said, he repeatedly offered to buy the theater. This summer, he said, Lefont finally said yes. The sale was finalized and mentioned on the theater’s Facebook page earlier this month.
The theater has seen a 25 percent decline in attendance in recent years as it has not kept pace with modern amenities, Gully said. But, he added, there is a lot of opportunity in downtown Sandy Springs, which is seeing a development boom and the city’s own arts-focused City Springs civic center coming soon. Officials at Sandy Springs Hospitality & Tourism, the city’s tourism agency, are helping him with marketing, he said.
“It’s an exciting time in the area with all the new development, a lot of renovated retail and lifestyle centers,” he said.
The theater will add more mainstream, commercial movies to the schedule, but will remain centered on art films, Gully said. The Lefont Film Society, a program that hosted special film screenings and discussions, will end, but similar film programs will be added, he said.
The concessions and menu will be updated as well, Gully said.
“I’m looking to make it a very neighborhood-type venue,” he said. That includes getting customer input on some of the upgrades; he intends to put samples of various electric reclining seats in the lobby so people can try them and comment on their favorites.
Gully is already making some basic repairs. Full renovations will follow the Jewish Film Festival in February. The theater will remain open during the work, which will rotate among auditoriums and spaces, he said.
Gully said he knows he’s taking on a big job, but says it’s a labor of love.
“I kind of tout myself as one of the [industry] experts in the country, and now I’m realizing how little I know,” he said. “But it’s fun.”
Update: This story has been updated with the theater’s name and other details.