Cineplex Entertainment is buying Vancouver's independent movie theatre chain Festival Cinemas and taking control of the firm's two remaining theatres, Fifth Avenue Cinemas and the Park Theatre.

The move comes only two weeks after Festival Cinema's third cinema, the Ridge Theatre, was forced to close when property owners the Cressey Development Group decided to level the landmark to make way for condos.

President of Festival Cinemas Leonard Schein said that after 35 years, he and fellow owner Tom Lightburn had decided to retire from movie theatre exhibition.

"We are proud that Canada's best theatre operator has agreed to purchase these theatres and we know Cineplex will provide our loyal guests Vancouver's best movie-going experience," he said.

"Our sincerest thanks go to the many employees, guests and film critics we have encountered throughout our careers in the entertainment business."

Tough decision

Schein said it was a tough decision to sell the theatres to Cineplex.

"We didn't really want to sell it to somebody who might run it for a few years and then run into financial difficulties and lose those theatres. So it was important to us to sell it to someone who would keep those theatres operating."

Cineplex President and CEO Ellis Jacob said the company is pleased to add the two iconic theatres to their circuit.

His colleague Michael Kennedy, Executive Vice President of filmed entertainment at Cineplex said, "The Fifth Avenue and the Park theatres are well known in Vancouver for programming the highest quality art, independent and foreign films.

"Cineplex is absolutely committed to continue to offer intelligent and artistic films from around the world in these theatres going forward."

Fifth Avenue Cinemas employee Natasha Sanders-Kay said workers were given the news in a staff meeting Friday morning. She isn't happy about the sale.

"We are going to lose the sense of going to a unique theatre and lose the sense of small independent busineses dedicated to art films and supporting the arts," she said.

Cineplex's SCENE loyalty program and Front Row Centre Events will be made available at the two theatres as part of the purchase.

Cineplex is the largest motion picture exhibitor in Canada and operates more than 130 theatres across the country.

The transaction is expected to close March 1, 2013.

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