David Holmes had just started working as the chief investment officer for the San Antonio Area Foundation in late 2014 when movie theater mogul John Santikos died, leaving $605 million to the foundation. It was the largest single donation in San Antonio’s history and one of the largest in the U.S. in 2015. Santikos also stipulated that all profits from his theaters and other assets should go to the foundation to support a range of charitable causes. Santikos Theatres soon became Santikos Entertainment, and the company’s board asked Holmes to take the helm as CEO.
Holmes is a native San Antonian and Trinity University graduate who worked for 21 years in the real estate division at USAA. He describes himself as “a recovering CPA.” His first involvement with the popular theater chain came in 2012 when he served as the interim CEO during John Santikos’ illness. Between the two Santikos jobs, Holmes launched Consensus Development, his own real estate development and investment consulting firm.
In his present capacity, he oversees 10 theaters here and in Houston, an income-producing real estate portfolio of nearly a million square feet, and 300 acres of land in San Antonio and Houston. At the time of this interview he was looking forward to the opening of the Casa Blanca, the newest addition to the chain at Highway 151 and Alamo Ranch Parkway. With 16 screens, the latest technology and plenty of additional amenities, the megaplex is expected to be one of the top 20 theaters in the country.
Did you have a chance to speak to John Santikos about his intentions regarding his estate?
Yes, he spoke openly about wanting the San Antonio Area Foundation to be the steward of his legacy. He also indicated that he wanted the company to keep growing and stay the premier movie venue in San Antonio and Houston and to continue to be a large employer of young people. He was very thoughtful in how he set up his legacy. He wanted the transfer of assets to the Area Foundation to be structured in such a way as to be minimally disruptive to the business. So as far as what we do as a company, both on the theater side and the real estate side, we remain very much a for-profit company. The key difference is that we are now the only theater exhibitor in the U.S. that is truly a social enterprise. We pay our expenses and we set money aside for future growth, and beyond that everything else goes back to the people of our community through the foundation to be distributed according to Mr. Santikos’ trust.
I know he chose a number of causes, such as arts and culture, seniors, libraries and parks, medical research, etc., but did he specify any particular organization or group?
Only two – Doctors Without Borders and International Orthodox Christian Charities.
Let’s talk about the theaters. How many people visit Santikos theaters annually? And which theater is the most popular?
It’s over 8 million people per year, about 6 million in San Antonio. And you are sitting right now in the most popular theater (The Palladium). It is routinely in the top five grossing theaters in the United States. It is a unique venue. There was so much care given to the architectural appeal of the building. Also, Mr. Santikos was a pioneer in combining multiple entertainment venues under one roof. So you have a restaurant here, a video game arcade, a full-service bar, a live music venue and an incredible movie viewing experience. What he realized early in his career is that the movies he was showing are the same movies everybody else was showing. He knew he had to differentiate himself. He made a deep commitment to service, and he also realized that his real competition was not the other movie theaters — it was the other family entertainment venues. That’s why the newer venues have so many amenities and choices. In addition to 16 screens, the Casa Blanca has 16 lanes of regulation bowling, a full-service restaurant, a full-service bar, and four of the theaters have a full sit-down dining service. It’s going to be the most spectacular family entertainment/movie theater in Texas. But what makes it really special is the technology investment that’s above and beyond anything that exists in the U.S.
Tell us about the technology.
What we have at the Casa Blanca is called Barco Laser Digital Projection. It’s like HDTV on steroids. The picture is three times brighter and clearer than any other projection system … The second thing is the sound. We have partnered with the company that’s the world’s leader in sound technology. All the auditoriums have the new Dolby Atmos 12-channel system that produces an immersive sound experience, and all are equipped with top-quality Klipsch speaker systems.
How do you choose the movies to be shown?
We get the movie release schedule every week from all the studios, and those include the title of the film, the genre and the rating. The studios also give us projections regarding the size of the expected national audience for each movie. Once a week we have what’s called the booking meeting where we decide how many prints of a particular movie we are going to show, at what theaters and at what times. It’s a dynamic process. We also have data that tell us that an action film, for instance, may do better in a certain theater, while a family movie for kids may do better in another location.
Are you a movie fan? Where do you go to see movies?
I usually end up either at the Palladium or the Embassy because they are close to my home. But I’ll be honest with you — I primarily go to our competitors (laughs). I like to see how other people do things…
In a few weeks we are going to announce a major renovation of the Embassy Theater that is a crown jewel in our portfolio, but it needs a face-lift. That’s the theater where I took my wife on our first date, and we saw the original Back to the Future film. Tomorrow we are celebrating 28 years of marriage, so I would say I’ve been going there for a while. But the theater that was the most popular when I was in high school was the Rialto, called the Galaxy back then. That was the place to be on Friday night!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I have the best job in San Antonio. I have never before worked somewhere where everything that I do is for the sole benefit of the community that I live in and grew up in. It’s a unique corporate mission. That’s what I love about it.
Which movies would you recommend this summer?
The movie that I already have a date with my son to go see is the new Jason Bourne movie with Matt Damon. I am a big fan of the Jason Bourne series. I think it’s coming out July 29.
By JASMINA WELLINGHOFF
Photography by JANET ROGERS