LONG BEACH — Long a cinematic wasteland, downtown may soon become something of a movieland, boasting a 14-screen theater complex that could even chase thoughts of Westwood from the minds of local film lovers.
In a move considered crucial to enlivening downtown's listless after-dark scene, the Redevelopment Agency this week granted a Los Angeles developer the right to build the theater complex and 140 apartments on a half-empty block bordering Pacific and Pine avenues.
The proposed complex would have about 3,500 seats. If successful, it would bring nighttime crowds to an area that now empties before the sun goes down. It would also bring an abundance of films to a city that is embarrassingly short of them.
"I think everybody agrees that the theaters are an essential element in bringing people in large quantities into the downtown area," said City Councilman Evan Anderson Braude, who, like other officials, hailed the plan. Braude's district includes the downtown.
Faced with proposals from two development teams, the agency chose the one submitted by Janss Corp. of Westwood and Pacific Theaters, giving the team exclusive negotiating rights for 60 days. Assuming the negotiations go well, the agency would then sign a development agreement with the team, which says it could break ground within six to eight months.
Has Most Innovations
"From my point of view, the Janss-Pacific proposal was the most exciting because it seemed to have the most architectural innovation," Redevelopment Agency Chairman Donald Westerland said.
Janss wants to build an eight-story mixed-use complex of theaters, apartments, shops and parking on agency-owned land that would be leased for 55 years. The apartments, which would rent from $850 to $1,200 a month, would rise above the theaters and face Pacific Avenue. The shops and theater entrance would face a courtyard fronting the 200 block of Pine Avenue, between 3rd Street and Broadway.
Janss Vice President Max Nardoni said the complex design would have elements of Art Deco design, to blend with the architecture of other buildings on the block. Most of the $37-million complex would be built on what is now a parking lot along Pacific Avenue, although some storefronts in the middle of the block along Pine Avenue would be demolished to make way for the courtyard area.
Offers Higher Revenues
According to Redevelopment Agency projections, the agency would make about $5 million from leasing fees and increased property taxes over a 20-year period.
Nardoni said his company, which would lease the theater to Pacific, was able to offer the agency higher revenues than the competing developer, Watt/Parker Inc., because Janss included apartments in the development and Watt did not.
"We have done it before and have been very successful with it," Nardoni said, adding that his firm already has leased all the apartments in a similar development under construction in Santa Monica.
"We think the downtown area has really started to turn around," Nardoni said. "This is really going to help the rest of the area."
Despite a population of more than 400,000, Long Beach has only two theater complexes of any size, both on Pacific Coast Highway in the far eastern end of town. The last downtown movie houses resorted to pornography and second-run films before closing in the past decade.
If downtown gets 14 screens though, Westerland hopes he won't have to trek to Los Angeles' Westside to see a foreign film. "For me to get up and go to Westwood is a real chore."