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Oxnard OKs Retail Project for Downtown

The $12-million complex, including a 12-screen theater, is touted as the key to reviving city's central area.

November 28, 2002|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

It took three tries, seven years and countless hours of negotiation, but it looks like Oxnard will finally get a downtown theater.

The City Council unanimously approved an agreement Tuesday with developers to build a 12-screen, 2,200-seat theater and retail complex touted as the key to reviving Oxnard's dreary downtown.

If the $12-million theater and retail complex is built as planned, downtown Oxnard would become a bazaar of restaurants, bookstores, shops and cultural festivals, developers said. The shopping and entertainment zone will be called the International Marketplace, said developer Dave White, a principal partner in the new Strand Cinema corporation.

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

"This city is an exciting place with a lot of opportunities," White said in an interview. "I think the people of Oxnard want their downtown to succeed."

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

Downtown merchants, city leaders and developers could barely contain their excitement Tuesday night. They shook hands, patted one another on the back and congratulated one another for a job well done.

"I want to break out the champagne," downtown property owner Tila Santana-Estrada said. "Some people laugh because they're saying all the theaters are going broke. But, come on, we have the people to make this work. You've got to have guts and pride. We can't settle for mediocrity anymore."

Tuesday's council vote is the closest this sprawling city of 185,000 residents has been to getting its new downtown theater.

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 in the local market.

It was the third deal since 1995 to go nowhere.

But this time, city leaders are convinced they finally have the perfect project. "The idea has always been to have the theater be a catalyst for activity downtown," city redevelopment manager Brian Pendleton said. "But it's also been a concern that we not just build a theater by itself."

White's proposal, Pendleton said, "brought the whole thing together."

Unlike previous deals in which developers would have received the theater site for free, White and his partners have agreed to buy the site -- nearly one square block -- for $800,000. And they will pay the city an additional $1 million over time.

In exchange, the city must immediately erect a 545-space downtown parking garage at an estimated cost of $4 million to $5 million. The city must also guarantee the $1.6-million annual lease payments to San Carlos Cinemas, based in Sonoma County.

White said he is sure the complex will be successful.

"The participation of the city makes it a lot less risky," White said. "Basically, everybody had to invest something. And I've got my whole reputation on the line here."

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