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Council Again Offers Closed Theater Moral Support Only

October 01, 1998|STEVE CARNEY

City Council members have reaffirmed their support of the shuttered Port Theater, but delayed any action to help reopen the venerable movie house.

The Port opened in 1951 at 2905 E. Coast Highway, but closed in August when the operating company declined to renew its lease, citing poor profits. Since then, fans of the foreign and art films the Port screened during the past 20 years have gathered 2,600 signatures on a petition to save the theater.

Port owner Scott Burnham said he too hopes to keep the theater open as a movie house, but said he would like the city to help pay for renovations necessary to do that. He added that he also must consider other offers for the property.

At its meeting Monday, the council asked city staff to continue discussions with Burnham and the residents who have organized the drive to save the theater, and determine how much Burnham wants to spend, how much--if anything--the city can contribute and what the plan is to restore and reopen the venue.

"We're talking about a facility that needs a lot of repair to bring it up to code. We're talking about a lot of money here," said Councilman Dennis D. O'Neil, whose Corona del Mar district houses the theater.

"I support maintaining the Port as a viable theater facility," he said, "but we can't just give the public's money to a private business owner unless we get some public benefit back."

Burnham told city staff that repairs could run $1.5 million, plus another $250,000 for a new projection and sound system to make the theater a viable operation. Architects the city contacted said the Port held some local historical significance because of its construction and architecture.

"It represents a lot of the best of what Newport Beach was, has been and will be in the future," said David Ford, a member of the citizens group trying to save the theater.

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