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ArcLight Could Revive Stalled Downtown Santa Monica Theater Project

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and MarkHarding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

April 11, 2014 -- After nearly three decades without a new movie theater, Downtown Santa Monica could get two state-of-the art cinemas by luxury theater operator ArcLight Cinemas.

ArcLight and Santa Monica Place-owner Macerich, which are currently in the process of developing a 1,300-seat theater in the remodeled Downtown mall, have partnered once again for a second, larger theater project on Fourth Street.

The project, which City officials said was still in a conceptual stage, would replace Parking Structure 3 with an ArcLight-operated theater with as many as 2,700 seats and about a dozen screens.

A similar project at the same location was abandoned by AMC in 2012 after the company became concerned that the project wouldn’t pencil out financially.

“ArcLight is just a really good fit for Santa Monica,” said Jason Harris, Santa Monica’s economic development manager. “It’s a pure cinema experience.”

The new project, which City staff will recommend to the City Council at its April 22 meeting, will give a much-needed boost to the area, Harris said.

Santa Monica, he said, has seen a precipitous drop in moviegoers over the years as theaters close down.

“Looking back several decades, Santa Monica was a very robust movie market,” he said. “We’ve lost theaters. We’ve lost seat count.”

The number of moviegoers has dropped from about 2 million a year to around 800,000 in part due to AMC’s shuttering of its Criterion theater on the Promenade north of Broadway last year and the lack of major upgrades at the remaining three theaters Downtown.

If the Council supports the staff recommendation on April 22, officials hope the project developers can begin obtaining permits for the project as early as 2016.

And staff hopes that the Santa Monica Place theater project, if approved by the City Council later this month, could open by next summer.

The new theaters could help Santa Monica keep the American Film Market (AFM), the annual independent film tradeshow that brings thousands to the bayside city every fall.

In 2011, AFM organizers agreed to stay in Santa Monica, which has hosted the tradeshow since 1991, for at least another six years.

But AFM’s commitment hinged partly on the City’s promise of new, modern venues where organizers could screen movies and host events.

The breakdown of the AMC deal for the 4th Street deal and the closure of AMC 6 Criterion theater frustrated AFM’s organizers, who arrange roughly 700 screenings during each tradeshow.

In addition to the loss of theater seats, the City also lost funding for its proposed $55 million overhaul of Santa Monica’s aging 3,000-seat Civic Auditorium, further squeezing venue options during the tradeshow.

While the AFM will benefit from the new theaters, so will year-round visitors and residents, Harris said.

Theaters create “pedestrian activity and vibrancy in commercial districts,” he said. “We have a great retail and restaurant environment. This is kind of the third leg of the stool.”

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