New York-listed Entertainment Properties Trust (EPR) has established a strategic alliance with start-up multiplex operator, APEX International Cinemas Investment (HK) Ltd, and its Chinese joint venture partner to open a chain of cinemas in mainland China.

EPRisproviding capital of $25m to APEX to build an initial ten multiplex cinemas. APEX said it couldn't name its Chinese joint venture partner due to contractual obligations. However, it's likely that the company, described as the largest entertainment company is China, is the state-owned China Film Group Corporation.

The deal was announced today in Macau at the annual CineAsia exhibition conference (Dec 9-11).

APEX was established this year by former executives from Warner Bros International Cinemas (WBIC) including T.J. Green who most recently held the position of vice president of worldwide operations and general manager China for WBIC.

WBIC launched a string of multiplexes across China but withdrew from the marketat the end of2006 when it became clear that foreign companies would be restricted to a minority share in exhibition ventures.

Green serves as APEX chairman and CEO with Johnny Liu as co-founder and president. Liu has previously worked on the marketing of major US blockbusters in the China market and helped to release imports under the assisted promotion scheme. Grace Ge, former director of China operations at WBIC, has been appointed as APEX vice president.

EPR is a real estate investment trust (REIT) that develops, owns, leases and finances commercial real estate. Its cinema portfolio consists of 80 multiplexesacross North America.

'After Entertainment Properties Trust continued success with cinema property investments in North America it was only natural for us to next look at China being the fastest growing and most underserved cinema market in the world,' said EPR president and CEO David Brain. 'Thanks to APEX's great experience in multiplex cinema management, we have every reason to believe the cinemas will perform at a very high level.'

APEX said its Chinese cinemas will feature wall-to-wall screens with improved sightlines and outstanding sound and projection systems, along with facilities including 3D screens, digital projection, VIP balconies and loyalty programmes. It will announce openings soon in the four major cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, as well as cities in the north-east, west, east, and south of China.

Under Chinese regulations, foreign exhibitors require a local partner to establish cinemas in China, with the exception of Hong Kong companies that qualify under the CEPA trade agreement. The local partner must hold a majority stake in mainland exhibition ventures.