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City Entertains Proposal to Combine Cinema, Parking Downtown

By Lookout Staff

November 12 -- The City Council could give new meaning to the term “drive-in” Tuesday night when it decides whether to entertain an unsolicited proposal to combine a movie house with parking Downtown.

The proposal by Mann Theaters has spurred the council to consider authorizing the solicitation of proposals to redevelop the site of Parking Structure 3, located at 1318-20 Fourth Street, for subterranean parking, ground-floor retail and cinema development.

City officials hope the proposal will help the Downtown successfully compete with a slew of state-of-the-art theaters cropping up in surrounding communities.

“In the past decade, new cinema complexes have been built nearby which offer movie-goers more choices and better amenities than are available in Santa Monica,” staff wrote in its report to the council.

The proposal comes three years after the Promenade Uses Task Force cautioned that the trend posed a threat to the cinema market that helped put Downtown Santa Monica on the international map.

“The Task Force’s report encouraged the City to support the upgrading of cinemas in order to sustain the diversity of activity within the Downtown and to ensure that Santa Monica residents have opportunities to enjoy movies locally,” staff wrote.

The unsolicited proposal from Metropolitan Pacific Capital, LLC and Mann Theaters envisions expanding a Third Street Promenade cinema to Structure 3, one of three parking structures slated for replacement under a plan to add 1,700 parking spaces Downtown over the next decade.

“The Promenade Uses Task Force foresaw the opportunity to combine these efforts and suggested that options to enhance the cinema experience ‘may include combining cinema development with the Downtown parking structure reconstruction and expansion program,’” staff wrote.

“Staff believes that this proposal presents an excellent opportunity and recommends that the City solicit proposals to determine private sector interest in a project of this kind on this site.”

The developers propose to retain Mann’s the existing entrance on the Third Street Promenade and construct 10 theaters with approximately 2,240 seats and 35,000 square feet of ground-floor retail on Arizona Avenue and Fourth Street by bridging Fourth Court and constructing two levels of cinema over subterranean public parking on the site of Parking Structure 3.

The proposed project, staff contends, “offers several potential benefits to the community,” including “retaining a cinema entrance on Third Street Promenade and creating ground-floor retail space along Arizona Avenue and Fourth Street.”

The project would expand “the energy of the Promenade to these adjacent streets that are currently challenged by blank walls and parking at street level,” staff wrote.

Despite the benefits, staff acknowledges that the proposal “raises several issues, including parking availability.”

“Dedicating the site of Parking Structure No. 3 for cinema development and only reserving the subterranean area for public parking may not achieve the full parking program that the Downtown Parking Plan envisioned for the site,” staff wrote.

“Another issue for consideration is that making only one site available for new cinema development will not fully satisfy the need to modernize the cinemas in the Bayside District, nor satisfy existing demand for upgraded cinema facilities,” staff wrote.

“If one cinema operator is able to upgrade successfully using the Parking Structure 3 site, other cinema operators could be at a competitive disadvantage until other opportunities arise.”

The Bayside District currently offers four cinema complexes and three cinema operators, with a total of 21 screens and more 5,500 seats, according to City officials.

“The existing Bayside cinema complexes only offer between four and seven screens each, which potentially could put them at a disadvantage in competition for first-run movies, as movie distributors prefer to offer their product to theaters that can show movies on multiple screens at multiple times,” staff wrote.

“Furthermore, existing theaters in Santa Monica do not offer stadium seating and other amenities that new theaters offer.”

Contemporary cinemas at the Howard Hughes Center and in Culver City directly compete with the Santa Monica cinemas, and have been joined by new cinemas at Westside Pavilion, Century City and the Grove, according to staff.

“Both Mann Theaters and AMC Theaters are on long-term leases which expire within the next 15 to 20 years,” staff wrote.

“If cinema patrons and distributors favor other cinema centers, the economic viability of existing operations in Santa Monica will decline, the operators may decide to leave Santa Monica, and Santa Monica residents will be forced to travel outside the City to see first-run films.”

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