Construction may have come to a halt on the Century Theatres multiplex planned for downtown Ventura, but the movie chain soon will double its screen count in the city nonetheless.
The 10-screen downtown project probably won't be completed until the end of the year, but the current expansion and renovation of the existing Century theater complex off Johnson Drive is expected to be finished around Memorial Day.
When completed, the Johnson Drive multiplex will offer first-run motion pictures on 16 screens, doubling its current number and making it the largest cinema in Ventura County.
Each new theater will be equipped with digital sound systems and stadium-style seating, consistent with Century Theatres' newer developments--a list that includes a 25-screen complex in the city of Orange.
The Marin County-based company also will renovate the snack counter and restrooms at the Ventura movie house and add an auxiliary parking area to accommodate the expected increase in the number of movie-goers.
"We're going to totally remodel the entire theater, so everything looks together," said Nancy Klasky, a Century spokeswoman. "We'll have a brand new entryway and a new box office."
Klasky said company officials are not concerned that the two Ventura Century Theatres, when they are functioning at full strength, will detract from one another.
"They are at opposite ends of the city, and you can't really compete with yourself, anyway," Klasky said.
"There are just different needs in the downtown area," she said. "You pick up the amenities of the redevelopment project there. It's going to be attached to retail development--it's a night on the town. In the free-standing house [on Johnson Drive], you're pretty much there to go to the movies."
There are local business people, however, who would like the Johnson Drive theater experience to be more than just a night at the movies. Kaeli Ui, a manager at Java Joe's coffeehouse in the neighboring Northbank Plaza shopping center, is one of them.
"We do get a lot of business coming from the theater," Ui said. "We know there's a direct impact. Now that we will have a larger theater, there's no reason why people in Oxnard and Nyeland Acres and even Camarillo wouldn't come here."
Mark Ramsey co-owns Gifted Candles, which closed its Northbank Plaza location in January. Ramsey said the larger theater may help neighboring food service operations but isn't likely to have much effect on retailers.
"It's going to help selected tenants, but most people who go to a movie theater are not shoppers," Ramsey said. "They might get some coffee, they might get some yogurt, they might get some dinner, but they are not shoppers."
Ramsey and his wife, Deborah, moved the candle and accessory shop to the Northbank center in 1996, after more than 10 years at the Buenaventura Mall.
As a retail center, he said, the shopping complex initially had its appeal, but after he was there about a year, overall traffic in the area dropped off considerably. Ramsey said he is not sure an expanded theater is going to make that much of a difference by itself.
"Johnson Drive is a very, very fast-paced road, and accessibility to the road is very difficult, as is being able to enter the mall safely," he said. "And there is not a marquee at the Northbank entrance."