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Ventura County

Oxnard Deal Would Revive Downtown

Council will consider a plan to build a 12-screen movie theater and new shops in what could be the first phase of a much larger project.

November 23, 2002|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

As the first phase of a planned downtown makeover, Oxnard officials have reached agreement with developers to build a 12-screen movie theater and retail complex.

A deal to be considered Tuesday by the City Council would construct a $12-million theater and erect about 10 shops, bookstores and restaurants around it, potentially ending a seven-year effort to revive the moribund downtown.

"It's going to be beautiful," Mayor Pro Tem John Zaragoza said. "It will be something that will tremendously help downtown business."

Developer Dave White, a principal partner in the new Strand Cinema corporation, said Friday that he had struck a deal with city redevelopment officials after six months of negotiations.

He said the movie theater complex is the first phase of a vast project that could transform the entire downtown area over the next 10 years into a bustling shopping and entertainment zone titled the International Marketplace.

After the theater and shops are built over the next 18 months between A and B streets, facing the city's landmark Plaza Park, White said his group plans to build a second set of 10 shops on the same parcel. Once those shops are leased, the plan calls for the development of stores, offices and restaurants all playing off the International Marketplace theme.

"I think you're going to see a radical change in people's opinions of downtown Oxnard," White said. "It's going to be the place to be in Ventura County. The city's already started a big transition."

White has played a role in those changes. He is a partner in both the 416-home River Ridge golf course expansion in north Oxnard and the $750-million RiverPark project, the largest mixed-use development in Ventura County history.

Of course, city residents have heard the same story before about promising downtown projects.

A city theater deal last year with Burbank developer Victor Georgino fell through after neither side would agree to pick up an extra $1.8 million in costs because builders were required to hire workers at the so-called prevailing wage, not the lowest possible wage for labor.

It was the third deal since 1995 to go nowhere.

Zaragoza said that this time both the developers and the city have arrived at a financially balanced agreement.

"Now we have more of a vested interest [from the developer], and it's a lot harder for developers to walk away," Zaragoza said.

Unlike previous deals in which developers would have gotten the theater site for free, White said he and his partners have agreed to buy the site--nearly one square block--for $800,000. They will pay the city another $1 million over time.

In exchange, the city must soon build a 350-space downtown parking garage at an estimated cost of $4 million to $5 million. The city must also guarantee the $1.35-million-a-year lease payments of movie theater operator San Carlos Cinemas for 25 years, officials said.

White said San Carlos Cinemas is a medium-sized company with theaters across the state.

The Strand Theater will be built by the developers, using a $12-million bank loan, White said. "The city is not throwing in anything as far as a cash investment in the theater," he said.

Although it's the most populous city in Ventura County, Oxnard has no first-run theater. On nights and weekends, Oxnard movie fans spend their money at theaters a few miles away in Ventura and Camarillo.

Meanwhile, the city loses out on potential property taxes from theater owners and sales tax from theater customers.

Even without a theater, city officials have taken steps in recent years to begin reviving the downtown area. There is a new red-brick library, a matching train station and new landscaping and lighting projects.

During the day, Oxnard is a bustling town center. But at night, residents have described it as a "ghost town."

"After six or seven years of negotiations, I'm delighted that we've reached this point," said City Atty. Gary Gillig.

"What really excites me," he said, "is this could be a cornerstone for the whole International Marketplace. We've got vacant buildings downtown. We've got to get people down there somehow."

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