Allan Saenz, owner and operator of the SALA Event Center in the former Reel Deal building. Photo by Kevin Holsapple
BY KEVIN HOLSAPPLE
The buzz is growing around the new SALA Event Center in downtown Los Alamos.
“Our work is now at a feverish pace to complete all of the things that need to be done to open on the first of December,” says owner and operator Allan Saenz.
Saenz has lived in Los Alamos and he has owned and operated Los Alamos Network since 2002, when he purchased the business from Bill Cabral. LANet provides internet access and other networking services to thousands of customers in Los Alamos, White Rock, and in the Jemez.
“LANet is a local, community-serving business so it feels natural to get involved in SALA, another community-serving business. When the future of the former Reel Deal building came into question I started looking into ideas for the place and got connected with local resident Sammi Owens who had been thinking about many of the same things,” said Saenz. “Together, we partnered up and purchased the building and I created a business called SALA Event Center to lease the building from our partnership.”
Saenz said that he had no illusions about how tough the movie theater business is in the era of pandemic and streaming services. He took advantage of learning all that he could about the theater business from the Deal family.
“We feel that positioning the venue as a community events center rather than a typical movie theater opens up a range of business potentials that will allow us to develop and thrive. There is still a community desire for having first-run movies here, but successfully blending in a whole range of other event possibilities will be critical to developing a sustainable business,” he said.
Patrons will notice a number of physical changes to the facility. The lobby is being opened up and will become an events venue in itself. All of the theaters will have flat staging areas beneath the screens that will support their use by speakers and live performers when not being used for film screenings. One of the theaters will be used to screen current, first-run movies. A second theater will be outfitted with stage lighting and other modifications so that it can better support live performances in addition to still being used for film screenings. A third theater will be modified to support dinner seating or relaxed communal seating. The fourth theater will become a big box with a flat floor — projection will be possible on every surface of the box in order to support use as an immersive experience venue.
“We will be completing the physical modifications in phases. Completion of the first phase allows us to be open for business in December,” Saenz said. “The community response has been great. Everyone we talk to is enthusiastic and full of ideas.”
SALA is actively recruiting community participation in “Friends of SALA”, a membership group that has several tiers including a free tier.
“We are committed to engaging with the Friends of SALA in shaping the future of the venue and the events that will take place there. Engaging community energy and ideas will be an important factor in making SALA a great community asset,” Saenz said. “Anyone can become a ‘Friend of SALA’ by signing up on the SALA website (sala.losalamos.com) and being a ‘Friend’ can be as uncomplicated as responding to occasional online surveys. A range of benefits are offered to ‘Friends’ at all tiers. We hope that everyone who wants a more vibrant community life will become a Friend of SALA.”
SALA is also deep into implementing the operations aspects of the business such as programming selection, ticketing, marketing, staffing, refreshments, and venue rental policies.
“We will continue to evolve and improve our website to add information and capabilities. It isn’t all there at this moment, but there will be a lot of changes in the coming weeks. SALA has a great local team of people who are working hard to put it all together,” Saenz said.
December events at SALA include an everyone-is-invited Grand Opening on Dec.1, a free screening of “Top Gun: Maverick” for Friends of SALA on Dec. 2; “You Resemble Me” on Dec. 6 (drama – Exec Producers Spike Lee and Spike Jonze); Warren Miller’s 2022 ski-tacular “Daymaker” on Dec. 8; “Harry Chapin: When In Doubt, Do Something” on Dec.13 (music documentary); and “The 22nd Annual Animation Show of Shows” on Dec. 20. Online ticket sales will begin soon.
A first-run movie schedule is anticipated to begin in January. The best way to stay up to date on the movie and event schedule at SALA is to become a Friend of SALA and monitor the weekly “This Week at SALA Event Center” e-bulletin.