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Giant theater proposed for Malvern site, again

Cobb VIP, Cinebistro say they'll build where Muvico failed

Developer Brian O'Neill's King of Prussia-based O'Neill Properties has announced another deal to get a high-end movie theater into Uptown Worthington, his long-running development project at the former National Rolling Mills/Worthington Steel complex in East Whiteland Township, Chester County.

This time O'Neill is projecting a ground-floor Cobb VIP movie theater plus an upstairs Cinebistro theater-restaurant, combining "for a two-story 85,000 square foot movie palace" that would be "the largest luxury theatre built in the United States in the past 30 years," complete with wine bar, gas-fired lanterns, "60 foot tall grand lobby with formal stairs and an elevator." (For a somewhat similar, family-oriented regional movie chain, see Penn Theaters of Lancaster County and Wilmington.)

It's seven years almost to the day since O'Neill proposed a 92,000-sq ft, simliarly appointed Muvico theater and dinner complex for the same space; that blew up in the real estate crash and O'Neill's resulting legal-financial war with his Citizens Bank lenders, resolved in 2011.

Cobb owner Robert M. Cobb's family started in the movie business in Alabama in 1921. In a statement, Cobb said "spectacular movie theatres, exquisite service, fine food and attention to every detail allows us to outperform" mass market cinema chains. He promised "1920s glamour" with modern "Hollywood splendor."

The theater will join a busy Wegman's grocery, Target discount store and other projects at the development, which competes with King of Prussia and PREIT's Exton Square center to attract lunching workers and after-work diners and shoppers from the sprawling Vanguard and Great Valley Corporate Center office complexes, plus affluent local residents.

O'Neill says he's also building 252 "luxury apartments" and enjoys a "waiting list" for tenants, and is also negotiating additional store leases; he says $200 million has been invested in a project that will eventually cost $500 million. It's not clear that O'Neill's empire has recovered its scale of the mid-2000s bubble years: He hasn't returned calls about his aborted Wilmington, Del., project, which is being sold at auction.