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The Plano-Eugene Connection

January 31st, 2006 by dk

If there’s a giant sucking sound coming from downtown Eugene, they can hear it in Plano, Texas.

Plano is a transition town. Southwest of Plano is the Dallas/Fort Worth (with a slash, not a hyphen) hub they call “the Metroplex.” North and east of Plano is not much. You can head to Paris, but it would be Paris, Texas, the “best small town in Texas.” There’s a junior college there, but not much else.

So if you’re a corporate officer in Plano, you want to live in the northeast part of town (“away from it all”), but work in the southwest (“near it all”). Driving home for lunch is not advisable.

Nothing says “power lunch” quite so well as the Gleneagles Country Club. You enter the dining room at Gleneagles through oversized doors, so you’re thinking palatial even before you get inside. The decor does not disappoint. It’s an exclusive, members-only environment for the many corporate titans who call this area home.

And it’s a place like this where the sore subject of Eugene, Oregon might well have come up between Denny Shelton and Lee Roy Mitchell.

James D. (“Denny”) Shelton is president, chairman of the board, and Chief Executive Officer for Triad Hospitals, Inc., number 426 on the latest Fortune 500 list. Lee Roy Mitchell is chairman and CEO of Cinemark; his company doesn’t make the Fortune 500 list, but that’s OK — he owns 92 percent of the stock.

Real estate transactions and traffic flow studies are nothing new to either of these neighbors. They build hospitals and movie theaters all across the country. Triad owns more than 50 hospitals, plus a dozen health clinics. At last count, Cinemark had 3,188 screens — not including the one in the CEO’s basement.

Each of these tycoons brought some of their ambition to the Eugene area, but with very different results.

Cinemark had a dozen screens at the Gateway Mall and pursued the unlikely but apparently effective strategy of investing millions for an additional (but decidedly more modern) 17 screens — at the same location. The result has sent rival Regal Cinemas reeling (no pun intended) at its once-dominant Valley River Center location. So much so, that the smaller chain had no choice but to reinvest in the market or pull out altogether, Wild-Oats-like. Valley River Center will soon have new screens from Regal, after simply cutting costs didn’t fix their problems. They shuttered the underperforming Movieland (now a Home Depot on Eugene’s west side) and the single-screen McDonald Theatre (now a concert venue downtown).

The Connor-Woolley-Opus downtown project is said to include a movie theater, but it’s not likely to be a Cinemark project. And if it is, you can be sure Cinemark won’t be paying for any highway interchange upgrades to accommodate the new traffic the screens will attract.

Triad, on the other hand, wanted a downtown Eugene location, but has been stymied by PeaceHealth’s plans for the Eugene Clinic, the ever-non-unanimous county commissioners’ hopes for the fairgrounds, and the patchwork of private ownership everywhere else they looked.

Unfortunately for Triad and Denny Shelton, Lee Roy Mitchell’s playbook will be of no use. PeaceHealth’s move to Springfield means doubling up at the current location won’t work. And unlike movie theaters, hospitals must deal with an extra layer of government bureaucracy to show regulators that there’s a certified need for the new services they plan to provide.

Could Cinemark have shown state bureaucrats that the Gateway area was being underserved with twelve movie screens; that they really needed 29? Doubtful.

Of course, these decisions being contemplated in Plano wouldn’t have such an impact on downtown Eugene, if it weren’t for decisions made a long time ago. The J.C. Penney Co., one of the downtown retailers that fled 30 years ago, is also headquartered in Plano. So they know all about that “giant sucking sound” made famous by Ross Perot.

H. Ross Perot himself is perhaps Plano’s premier personality. The company he built that made him a billionaire, EDS, sprawls in western Plano. Across the street is Triad’s headquarters.

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  • 1 BillThePoet Feb 5, 2006 at 5:31 pm


    It’s off-topic, but please post a first impression “Think-Fast” response to the Isam’s reaction to the Danish Mohammed comics, and if you have the time, a serious essay on the subject. Did Carl Rove ever fire bomb your ‘Giz?

    Toles and Oliphant are too close, and your average comics customer like myself is too far away. Either by accident or divine guidance, you are ideally suited to comment. Please post your thoughts. 7 Abrams, 14 Bradleys, 11 Shermans.