Russian exhibitor, Rising Star Media, a joint venture between exhibition giant National Amusements and Soquel Ventures headed by American Paul Heth, has secured a $27.5m loan to build five new multiplexes in Russia.

The seven year loan was provided by The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Raiffenfeisenbank Zentralbank Osterreich. It is the first time the EBRD has backed an exhibition project in Russia.

Rising Star opened Russia's largest multiplex last year, an 11 screen theatre complex located in a south Moscow shopping mall. It is set to open a second multiplex later this year. The additional cinemas are slated to be opened in Moscow and St Petersburg by the end of 2006.

The investment is the latest confirmation of the growing strength of the Russian exhibition sector which now has more than 450 modern screens but still remains one of the most underscreened countries in Europe.

Last year the Russian box office grew by over 70 percent to nearly $200m and this year it is expected to continue to expand.

Other players which have recently entered the market include the Interros backed Cinema Park which opened a nine screen, $5m multiplex in Moscow in January and plans to build another 12 multiplexes. Cinema Park is 20 percent owned by Nikita Mikhalkov's Three T Studios.

Meanwhile, in the UK, reports are circulating that a National Amusements/Showcase team has been holding a number of meetings with shopping centre groups across the country over the last fortnight

National Amusements is believed to be planning to roll out a new cinema concept, focussed on town centre sites across the UK - in line with a new wave of shopping and leisure centre developments currently targeting major city centres.

According to international property consultant John Sullivan of Ozseeker, who has long advocated the development of city centre sites: "cinemagoing in the UK has become an integral part of the leisure event, rather than a destination in itself."

Consequently, multi-layred, centre-based developments, encompassing leisure, entertainment, retail and eating and drinking venues are being designed and constructed throughout the country.

"The UK cinema operators have lost touch with the property developers", says Sullivan. "There seems to be a lack of strong management teams keeping up with all the different ideas that are now happening."

Virtually every UK city and many of the larger towns are in line for major shopping centre schemes within the next five years, and they're all looking for cinema tenants, says Sullivan.

And with cinemagoing now significantly eating into the pub culture market, the trend of developing edge- and out-of-town sites is all but over.

This combination of factors indicates that as much as 80% of UCI cinemas' estate (currently seeking a buyer) may be under threat - based, as it is, largely on out-of-town industrial land, rather than in major city centres.

Additional reporting by Ralf Ludemann in London