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AMC Theater Plan Goes Public  

By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout Staff

April 13, 2010 --Community members on Monday evening had their first opportunity to see the plan for a downtown cinema complex that an AMC Entertainment Inc. official said would be a “flagship location” for the company. Several people praised the project during a community meeting at the Ken Edwards Center. But there were critics, including a lawyer who said the project could lead to litigation.

The complex is proposed for a City-owned site on Fourth Street, near Arizona Avenue, currently occupied by a parking structure. The 83,000-square-foot complex would include 12 auditorium theaters with a total of 2,197 seats, 2,100 square feet of retail tenant space and an interior restaurant that would be open to the public.

A four-story-high IMAX theater with 3D capabilities would be included in one auditorium. John Warfel of Metropolitan Pacific Capital, which is partnering with AMC on the project, said in addition to films, the auditoriums could be used for digital concerts and other events.

The box office would be located inside the complex near a non-traditional concession area at which people would select their items, and then bring them to the cashier. In addition to regular movie theater food, items such as “healthy choices” and gourmet popcorn would be offered.

The complex would have reserved seating, with an usher bringing people to their seats. AMC designer Raj Valluri said he wants the facility to attract movie premieres and other major events.
“AMC has a few flagship locations,” Valluri said. “This theater will effectively end up being a flagship location.”

AMC has been in downtown Santa Monica for 20 years with its Santa Monica 7 on the Third Street Promenade. It also operates the Broadway 4. The movie theaters on the Promenade are credited with revitalizing the street and bringing it to its world-class status. Kathleen Rawson, executive director of the Bayside District Corp., said this project could do the same for Fourth Street.

“For years, we’ve been trying and trying to expand the vitality of the district beyond just Third Street … this is really an opportunity, and I think you need to look at it that way,” Rawson said.

Santa Monica’s theaters are considered out of date because they lack the sophistication of cinemas in nearby areas. City officials say this is a major factor in the 30 percent decrease in Santa Monica theater attendance in the past decade. AMC plans to update Santa Monica 7 as part of this project.

Several community members asked questions and gave their input. Much of the discussion involved parking issues. No parking spots are planned for the development, with the idea being that having on-site parking would not encourage people to explore other parts of downtown.


A new parking structure is planned for elsewhere in the City to replace the one slated for demolition. During the construction period when there will be a parking shortage, the plan is to move some monthly downtown parking to an area below the library and the Civic Center structure.

The meeting got heated when attorney Stanley Epstein talked about the Broadway 4. He criticized the staff report for next week’s Planning Commission meeting, at which time the project will also be presented, because it states that the Broadway 4 will close.

A majority of the City Council said in the fall it wanted to close that theater in the interest of keeping down the total number of downtown theater seats because of traffic and parking concerns. AMC came up with a plan in October to end its lease on the property and ensure no future theater operators would rent the space. Epstein said the plan was legally questionable. He complained that he had not gotten a response from the City Attorney’s office after asking about the legal issues five months ago.

The owner of the Broadway 4, Promenade Gateway LLP, only became aware of AMC’s plan last week. It has since hired an attorney to review AMC’s lease. Scott Blake, asset manager for Promenade Gateway, said he wants the space to be used as a movie theater. April, 08 2010 Landlord calls AMC Plan Disturbing

“If this scheme is continued, there will be clear litigation,” Epstein said. “The City will almost certainly lose. Its reputation will go down the tubes. The new theater might be developed depending on the contract it makes. And the City will have a Broadway 4, which will still have 1,100 seats. And (the City) will look like an idiot and possibly be liable for damages as well as an injunction.”

Blake attended the meeting, but he did not speak during public comment. He told The Lookout News after the session that he had been in contact AMC and Metropolitan Pacific Capital recently, and they could be meeting soon.

Because the project would not fit with the City’s regulations in regard to setback and signage rules, a development agreement is required. A development agreement necessitates the developer offer “public benefits.”

Some public benefits that are on the table include making the auditoriums available to community groups and for entertainment and cultural events, displaying public art and creating a transportation demand management program to reduce traffic.

The project must undergo environmental review before going to the Planning Commission and City Council for approval. The California Coastal Commission also has a say. Warfel estimated the permit process would take about 18 months and construction would last approximately one year.


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