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Builder Plans Multiplex in Oxnard : Downtown: Proposed 14-screen theater could revitalize flagging area, city officials say. But some doubt the developer can attract a movie chain.

May 30, 1996|ERIC WAHLGREN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OXNARD — Some call it Mission Impossible, but an El Segundo-based developer hopes to sign an agreement within 90 days that could bring a 14-screen theater complex to the city's downtown.

"We are moving forward on it," said Rex Swanson, president of Metropolitan Development. "I would hope to have a theater chain wrapped up within 60 to 90 days."

Citing ongoing talks, Swanson would not disclose the names of movie chains considering a deal that would enable him to build the 2,500-seat complex in Oxnard. But Swanson said his company recently built a 20-screen, 4,500-seat multiplex--possibly California's largest--in Norwalk for AMC.

The movie mecca Swanson wants to build on a two-acre A Street lot between 5th and 6th streets could also feature a food court and other entertainment-related businesses, he said.

The project, which would take about two years to complete, could lure other businesses into the area, helping to spur a revitalization of the city's flagging core, Oxnard officials said.

Yet some--including the Burbank developer negotiating to build a 10-screen multiplex in downtown Ventura--doubt that Oxnard will manage to reel in a movie chain that would make such a project fly.

'I don't think they will be able to attract an exhibitor that will have an interest in downtown Oxnard," Victor Georgino said. "The general market is already being served with screens that are already existing and the proposed new screens. The only thing I see going downtown is a multiplex theater that is part English and part Spanish or possibly a discount theater."

Georgino said Oxnard's demographics combined with competition from movie houses along the Ventura Freeway mean the city could not draw enough filmgoers to make a multiplex profitable.

But Swanson disagrees, saying he realizes his theater would face competition but that a multiplex located away from the freeway in downtown Oxnard would draw crowds.

"We like the demographics of downtown Oxnard for a theater," Swanson said. "I guess people can have different opinions."

Swanson added that he did not know how a multiplex in Ventura would affect his plans, saying: "I really can't answer whether it would have a negative impact."

Oxnard now has two movie houses, including a cut-rate theater in The Esplanade mall and a larger venue along Oxnard Boulevard, about two miles from the downtown site. But city leaders would like to see a theater anchor downtown's redevelopment.

"A multiplex would also bring some restaurants and bookstores and things of that nature," said Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez. "Any time you have a crowd, you have businesses that come there because of the people."

Oxnard's Downtown Manager Peter Apanel, who is helping with the city's revitalization effort that will include the proposed theater site, said a multiplex is the best way to touch off urban renewal.

"The spinoff would be tremendous," Apanel said.

Multiplex fever has hit many Ventura County cities, including Camarillo, Thousand Oaks and Santa Paula--which have all added massive new movie houses in the past year.

Oxnard's City Council approved an agreement with Swanson in December that calls for Metropolitan Development to seek tenants for the proposed complex. Another developer had signed such an agreement with the city, but that contract expired before the company could find a movie chain wanting to move into the proposed complex.

Even if Swanson finds a movie chain wanting to sign a deal, he said movies will not be screen downtown Oxnard any time soon.

Swanson would first have to negotiate a lease with the tenant, a process that could take up to six months, he said. Then Metroplitan Development would need about a year to construct the one-story facility.

Along the way, Oxnard would have to agree to lease or sell the city-owned land on which proposed complex would sit before the City Council actually approved the project.

"But Oxnard has been really, really cooperative," said Swanson, adding that he believes he has the city backing needed to help make the project happen.

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