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Santa Monica Place Plans for New Movie Theater

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

October 11, 2013 -- Santa Monica Place owner Macerich is expected to submit plans next week for a 50,000-square-foot movie theater, the first to be built in the bayside city in more than two decades, The Lookout has learned.

How many seats and screens the theater on the third floor of the remodeled mall would have and who would operate it won't be known until the company officially submits its application.

Macerich officials mentioned the company's intention to add the theater during a ceremony celebrating the mall's award-winning design Wednesday.

City Manager Rod Gould confirmed that the City expects to see the plans within a few days.

“One of the very few weaknesses in the downtown is that we are unable to provide modern movie theater experiences,” Gould told The Lookout Thursday.

The number of theater seats Downtown has been dwindling. Several months ago, the Criterion on the Third Street Promenade closed its doors for good and the two remaining theaters operating have been operating for years with outdated technology.

A modern cinema could help the Santa Monica recapture moviegoers it has lost to neighboring cities, Downtown officials said.

“We haven't had infrastructure improvements in our theaters since the 1980s,” said Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., adding that movie theaters are an important part of the mix downtown.

Despite their importance, the City has struggled to shore up its stock of theater seats in the only place theaters are permitted by City zoning ordinance: the Downtown.

About a year ago, AMC nixed plans to develop a modern theater complex on the current site of Parking Structure Three on Fourth Street when the cinema giant decided it was too expensive.

City officials said they have found operators willing to undertake the project AMC walked away from last year. But nothing can move forward until the City reconciles its conflict with the State Department of Finance over the property's disposition.

Because the City transferred ownership of the parking structure -- along with five others -- to its former redevelopment agency (RDA), Santa Monica will have to undergo a lengthy bureaucratic process to take back official ownership of the property after California axed RDAs state-wide in February 2012. (“For Santa Monica to Keep Vital Properties, More Obstacles Ahead,” August 23)

In the meantime, Gould said, the dining deck of the Santa Monica Place is a “very good place to put a modern movie theater.”

Rawson agreed, calling the plan a “welcome addition to the Downtown.”

She acknowledged, however, that one theater alone wouldn't be enough to capture the demand of moviegoers in Santa Monica.

“There's a huge market here,” she said. Movie theater operators “all want to be here.”

Recently, Santa Monica has come under pressure from the American Film Market (AFM), which has held its trade show in the bayside city for more than two decades, bringing with it business for hotels, restaurants and other local establishments.

However, organizers have complained that the City must do more to assure that the AFM has access to state-of-the-art movie theaters during its annual trade show for screenings or else it may have to find another venue.

Gould said the City is working closely with AFM's managing director Jonathan Wolf.

The AFM agreed to keep its trade show in Santa Monica through 2017 in large part because the City promised to develop modern theater and to renovate the Civic Auditorium. ("American Film Market to Stay in Santa Monica," December 9, 2011)

But it's not just AFM's annual event that's at stake. When the Criterion shut down several months ago, the other theaters expected to absorb its former patrons. Instead, their ticket sales remained the same.

“We lost those people,” said Gould. “That's being felt.”

Former mayor Denny Zane said, “Theaters are not only good as movie-screen opportunities, they help determine where your pedestrian activity goes.”

Zane, who helped author an ordinance in 1986 that limited theater construction to the Third Street Promenade, Second Street and Fourth Street (the Bayside District), said he had mixed feelings about the plan but that it warranted serious consideration.

Under Zane's ordinance, theaters can't be built at the Santa Monica Place, except with special permission from the City Council.

Rawson doesn't think that will be a problem. “We are not in competition with Santa Monica Place,” she said. “We are looking for collective success.”

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