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Council Paves Way to Replace Mall Movie Theater with Museum

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By Jorge Casuso

May 11, 2023 -- The saga of Santa Monica's first new movie theater in 20 years ended quietly Tuesday night with an ordinance swiftly approved by the City Council without comment.

With a 5 to 0 vote, the Council canceled the Development Agreement (DA) that allowed the highly touted ArcLight theater to be built, paving the way for a museum to occupy the vacant space on the third floor of Santa Monica Place, according to City staff's report.

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Unlike the theater, which required a DA to increase the height of the space to accommodate movie screens, a museum would be a permitted use under the City's updated zoning code, staff said.

Any new uses of the space, however, "will require a separate process to determine what, if any, discretionary permits are required," the report noted.

Officials with Macerich, which owns Santa Monica Place, have announced plans to replace the space occupied for some four and a half years by the ArcLight Cinemas theater with an immersive art museum.

Macerich expects the nation's second Arte Museum -- created by D’strict, a South Korean digital design company -- will attract 1 million annual visitors when it opens at the end of the year, according to a report in Women's Wear Daily.

The museum houses rooms that feature video projections with differnt scents to accompany the digital images, according the the January article.

Opened in late 2015, the state-of-the-art ArcLight theater -- with 12 screens and nearly 1,500 seats -- helped revitalize Santa Monica's fading moviegoing scene.

The grand opening of the the luxury theater helped spur the renovation of the 44-year-old Laemmle Monica 4-Plex on Second Street, which reopened as the Monica Film Center.

It also spurred the AMC 7 on the Promenade to rebuild its aging movie house and the Loews Broadway 4 to make similar upgrades, helping burnish the reputation Santa Monica had gained as a movie destination when the theaters anchored the newly opened Promenade in 1989.

The ArcLight -- which occupied the 50,000-square-foot space that had housed the third floor of Bloomingdale's -- also served as an anchor for the newly redeveloped three-story mall.

The state-of-the art theaters once again attracted crowds Downtown that dined and shopped in the area.

That all ended with the coronavirus shutdown that shuttered theaters and other public spaces across Los Angeles County.

In April 2021 -- one week after County Health officials allowed movie theaters to double their audience capacity -- Pacific announced it would not be reopening its ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres locations.

“This was not the outcome anyone wanted, but despite a huge effort that exhausted all potential options, the company does not have a viable way forward,” the statement from Pacific read.

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