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O.C. BUSINESS PLUS

Edwards Shuts Four-Screen Westminster Mall Cinema

Theaters: It's the second O.C. closure this week for the struggling Newport Beach chain.

March 10, 2001|LESLIE EARNEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Edwards Theatres Circuit Inc., continuing to shed small theater complexes that have been a drain on the Newport Beach chain, has closed its four-screen cinema in Westminster Mall.

The theater, which often showed children's movies, had been overshadowed by a newer 10-screen cinema that Edwards opened in 1992 a couple of miles away.

The Westminster movie house, which opened in 1974 with the mall, was closed last weekend when a water pipe broke in a food court above it. The mall's general manager, Nancy Feightner, said she was expecting it to reopen after the repairs.

But Edwards spokeswoman Ann Julsen said Friday the company decided to close the underperforming theater permanently. The lease was due to expire at the end of the year but allows Edwards to pull out early if the property sustains significant damage, she said.

On Thursday, Edwards closed a four-screen cinema at the Mesa Verde Center in Costa Mesa. It was the second blow this year for the center, which in January lost another longtime tenant, the Ice Chalet skating rink.

"We don't know what we're going to do," said Gene Moriarty, general manager of MV Partners, Mesa Verde's owner. "They were very old buildings, obsolete. So they just close up. That's life in the real estate business."

Edwards, which filed for bankruptcy protection in August, has been unloading unprofitable theaters as it moves through reorganization.

The chain has closed a couple of dozen cinemas since early 2000. The latest closures cut the number of Edwards theaters to 61 and reduce its screen count to 700.

Edwards said last month it was expecting a significant infusion of cash from billionaire Philip Anschutz and Oaktree Capital Management, a distressed debt specialist. Edwards President Stephen Coffey said the capital would allow the company to emerge from bankruptcy with a more efficient, competitive and financially sound operation.

The company did not disclose terms of the transaction, but some analysts have said it is unlikely that the Edwards family, which has operated the chain for 70 years, will maintain control of the business when it emerges from bankruptcy.

The company said earlier it was dropping the lease on the Lido Cinema in Newport Beach, but that theater has remained open. Julsen said Friday she could provide no additional information about the fate of the Lido or other possible closures.

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