The City Council has granted a Century City attorney another nine months to come up with financing to renovate the Fox Theatre.
Edward G. Lewis, owner of the vintage theater on Harbor Boulevard, told council members Tuesday that he has been struggling to find a lender or another way to fund the project, which would make the landmark cinema a major addition to the city's downtown redevelopment efforts.
"It has been very, very frustrating," Lewis said. "I have been very close (to financing) twice."
In the past year, Lewis has been forced to postpone work on the project several times because Landmark Theatre Corp., which plans to lease the theater, has gone through a restructuring as part of a merger with the Samuel Goldwyn Co. The merger is awaiting approval by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Landmark originally was to have contributed $1 million toward the project, but it has since renegotiated its lease with Lewis and will chip in only $300,000.
The Fox Theatre was built in 1925 and has remained empty since it closed in 1987. Plans call for the theater's large screen to remain, but the balcony area will be split into two smaller theaters.
Lewis said that Landmark remains determined to go forward with the project, even though the chain announced this week that it was planning to discontinue its lease at the Balboa Cinema in Newport Beach. The company also operates the Port Theatre in Corona del Mar.
"They are still committed to making this their flagship operation in Orange County," Lewis said.
Lewis said that it is still uncertain whether he will be successful in his most recent attempt to secure financing through Sumitomo Bank. Officials there have told him he will have to wait until January, when lending options might become available, he said. Lewis is also trying to get financing from seven other lenders.
"This project is still very viable," said Terry Galvin, manager of the city's Redevelopment Agency. "Hopefully the economy will turn around and some financing will come through."
Total cost of the project is estimated at $1.5 million to $1.7 million. Plans call for restoration of the theater's six Italian-style murals and stage decorations and renovations to bring the building up to earthquake safety and handicapped access standards.
The city is spending about $4 million to purchase land, demolish old houses, relocate tenants, repair streets and construct a 200-space parking structure behind the theater. Lewis said he has no plans to ask the city for help in paying renovation costs.
Although he has had trouble financing the theater project, Lewis said he has found a new tenant to replace Angelo and Vinci's, an Italian restaurant that will vacate a 15,000-square-foot space connected to the movie house. The restaurant is building a new location next to the theater. Lewis declined to name his new tenant until contracts are signed.