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Tri-North’s Berkley finds home on both sides of the big screen

Gary Berkley (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Gary Berkley (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

For Gary Berkley, date night is definitely not dinner and a movie.

“My wife hates going to a movies with me because I know too much,” said Berkley, senior project manager with Tri-North Builders.

It’s an occupational hazard for a guy who has spent nearly 50 years in the movie business, including as a builder on more than 20 theater projects.

“I’ve been in theater since I was born,” Berkley said.

His father, Wayne Berkley, managed The Viking, a single-screen indoor theater in Appleton, where he spent more than 50 years.

The younger Berkley officially got into the business at 16, working as everything from an usher to projectionist to manager.

“I even cleaned theaters,” Berkley said.

Eventually, he became manager for all the Marcus Corp. theaters in Madison, which led to his promotion as office director of concessions and advertising in Milwaukee. But changes within the industry led him out of the office and into construction, eventually overseeing projects as director of construction for Marcus.

When industry trends led Marcus to downsize and pull back on building about 10 years ago, Berkley decided to join Tri-North.

“Ironically they started building again after I came to Tri-North,” Berkley said.

But the shift allowed him to continue what he started at Marcus.

“I used to approve everything. Now I have to get everything approved,” he laughed. “But essentially I do the same thing.”

His work has led him back to Appleton, where he helped build Marcus Hollywood Cinema, which includes a 100-game arcade, laser tag, bumper cars, batting cages, and a carousel.

The epic project was a short-lived sojourn into full family entertainment, one that has since shifted toward a greater focus on food, with theaters such as The Ridge in New Berlin, The Majestic in Brookfield and the recent Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie, which all feature restaurants, cocktail lounges or in-theater dining.

“It’s no longer just popcorn and soda,” Berkley said.

The shift has led not only to new construction but also dozens of remodeling projects throughout the Midwest.

“At one time we were either remodeling theaters or building new theaters for almost every theater Marcus has,” Berkley said.

That’s meant embracing everything from new building materials — these days theater projects are more likely to include pre-cast exterior elements, instead of only masonry, Berkley said — to adjusted project timelines.

“The economy is starting to come back. But it’s harder and harder to find a large quantity of subcontractors who want to bid. And they don’t have the manpower, so hitting the completion dates has become a challenge,” Berkley said.

Particularly since the movie industry has far less down time than in the past.

“The real lull time isn’t much anymore,” Berkley said. “It’s basically Labor Day until October and a little bit in February, March and April. And things start popping again in May with the big releases.”

Fortunately, he understands the business.

“I’m a little more sensitive to the theater industry timeframe,” Berkley said.

The Daily Reporter: When you have a bad day, what keeps you coming back to work?
Gary Berkley: The challenge. There’s always a good after a bad day. You just have to be patient.

TDR: What is the most useful thing you’ve learned since starting your job?
Berkley: Patience. It comes with age.

TDR: What do you wish you’d learned sooner?
Berkley: Patience. It would save my blood pressure. And I’ve learned to relax. Patience makes you relax.

TDR: What do you consider your biggest achievement so far?
Berkley: I’d say the thing I’m proudest of is my family. Everything else is secondary.

TDR: What can you spend hours doing that’s not work-related?
Berkley: Spending time with my wife.

TDR: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Berkley: I would have tried to be a more patient person when I was younger. I found out over time it doesn’t do any good to yell; you’re not getting anywhere yelling at people. All it does is upset them and upset you. You get a lot further trying to negotiate.

TDR: Which famous person would most like to have a drink with?
Berkley: I don’t know if there’s any one individual, but I definitely would have a beer. If it wasn’t a beer, it would be a Manhattan.

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