Starting Thursday, Delano movie lovers will be able to take in the latest flicks closer to home when a new 12-screen theater opens in town. 

Maya Cinemas will unveil its new Delano theater to the public on Thursday at 3:30 p.m., starting with a "Deadpool" double feature. Thanks to the theater chain's dedication to new, cutting-edge technology, Delano will go from having no movie theater to having one of the best in the country. That means no more 45-minute drives into Bakersfield to see a film.

"There were a lot of factors but the most important was that it is a very under-served community," said Moctesuma Esparza, CEO of Maya Cinemas, of why the company chose Delano. "There had been no movie theater there in over 10 years. It made sense to me, and it worked economically."

The theater opens on Thursday with "Deadpool 2" and already released films like "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Overboard." The weekend's new releases will start the next day.

This is the first movie theater in Delano in more than 15 years, with only single-screen theaters preceding it. Any multiplex would be an improvement for Delano, but the new Maya Cinemas theater also boasts the first-of-its-kind Christie laser projection in its MPX auditorium, making it the most advanced projection system in exhibition, according to Larry Porricelli, vice president of Maya Cinemas, who said the projector gives "a super spectacular picture."

"This theater will be the most technologically advanced theater in the nation," Porricelli said. "Here we are in Delano, California, and they get a better picture than in New York City or Los Angeles. Some might think, 'Maybe people won't notice it,' but, oh, you do."

"The laser projector is top of the line," added Amanda Cantu, Maya marketing director. "It's the projector everybody (in the movie theater industry) wants."

The theater also has Dolby Atmos auditoriums, which make for a more immersive sound experience. In all auditoriums, the screens stretch from wall to wall and have both deluxe premium recliners and rockers.

Work on the Delano theater officially kicked off with an October 2016 groundbreaking. Although this week’s opening is about five months later than the Maya team had initially hoped, they believe the wait has been worth it. The community is ready for the new theater to open too.

“At the groundbreaking, people were just so excited to have something like this for them,” Cantu said. “The city is really rooting for it.”

About a week before the Thursday opening (and a special invite-only ribbon cutting event the day before), the 44,415-square-foot theater was still a work in progress. The parking lot wasn't yet paved, the arcade games not yet set up and the concession signs waiting to be hung.

But most of the auditoriums themselves were just about ready to go, with purple carpet on the ground and those plush chairs likely looking inviting to the crew members working hard to get the place ready. Most of the screens were hung, including the 33-foot-by-61-foot MPX screen, a feat that took a few crew members to accomplish, some on high-rise scaffolding and some on the ground.

"With most theaters, it's down to the wire," Cantu said. "We're mopping and cleaning before we open the doors."

Cantu noted that it's possible the parking lot wouldn't be completely done by Thursday but that at least one lot would be finished. Likewise, the theater might open without all the auditoriums ready, she said, but the theater would still have plenty of auditoriums finished and ready for moviegoers. 

When it's time for the movies to play, don't forget the concessions. The Delano location will have all the movie theater favorites, including popcorn and Eisenberg "Big Dog" hot dogs. Soda will be available through the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, letting guests pick from the line of beverages and add in flavors like cherry and vanilla.

The theater has been in the works for more than five years, Esparza said. Developer YK America approached the movie theater chain, impressed with its theaters in the region. (In addition to Bakersfield, Maya Cinemas also has locations in Fresno, Salinas and Pittsburg.)

"We needed to be able to figure out if there was enough population there to support the kind of theaters we build," Esparza said. "I have other emotional reasons for why I wanted (one of our theaters) to be in Delano."

Esparza, who marched with Cesar Chavez in the 1960s, said the birthplace of the farmworkers’ rights movement holds a special place in his heart.

Keeping with the commitment to the community, the theater will be run by Delano native Michael Armendariz, who will serve as general manager. The theater also implemented a paid internship program and hired more than 25 students from the Career Pathways programs at Delano, Robert F. Kennedy and Cesar Chavez high schools.

The theater, which employs about 60 employees so far, will also give back through scholarships and providing Maya Cares sensory-friendly screenings for guests with special needs. Esparza said Maya Cinemas makes these efforts in all cities where they have theaters.

“It gives the community a beautiful movie theater in their own backyard,” Esparza said. “I’m committed to making the movie theater be deeply involved in the life of the community.”

Kelly Ardis can be reached at 661-395-7660. Follow her on Twitter at @TBCKellyArdis.

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