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Planning Meetings Begin For AMC Theater Development Agreement:

Community members got their first look at the concept plans for a new American Multi-Cinema (AMC) Theater that is being proposed for 1318-1320 Fourth Street at a community meeting on April 12.

AMC wants to build a new theater despite the fact it is already operating two cinema complexes in Downtown Santa Monica because theater attendance in Santa Monica has been dropping.  Attendance is down according to city studies due to increased competition from theater complexes in nearby cities and because the city’s cinemas are outdated.

The new AMC proposal is being worked on by AMC in partnership with the Metropolitan Pacific Real Estate Development Co. The conceptual project includes 12 screening auditoriums with IMAX and 3-D capability, a total of 2,167 seats, 2,100 square feet of retail space, and a restaurant/lounge that would be open to theater patrons and the public.  Also included would be an atrium, a glass elevator, and outdoor eating areas.  AMC’s Design Vice-President Raj Valluri stated that the new theater would be a “flagship location for AMC.”

The project would be sited where Downtown Parking Structure Number 3 is currently located.  This structure therefore, would be demolished and result in the loss of 324 parking spaces.  Also part of the project would be the reduction of approximately 1,597 theater seats at the AMC’s other two Third Street Promenade locations.  This will be done by closing the AMC Broadway 4 and reconfiguring the AMC 7.  Santa Monica’s City Council does not want to increase the number of cinema seats in the city dramatically due to traffic congestion concerns.

AMC is seeking to enter into a Development Agreement (DA) with the City of Santa Monica in order to build this project.  A DA is agreed to by Santa Monica and a developer when the developer offers the city public benefits in exchange for being permitted to develop their project with parameters (such as height) that are outside of the of the city’s zoning standards.

Two community benefits mentioned at the meeting were the development of a “state-of-the-art entertainment venue to help maintain Downtown’s competitive advantage as a premier local and regional entertainment destination,” and that the project would “enhance pedestrian and visitor activity in the Downtown District, in particular on Fourth Street and during the evening hours.”

Additional potential public benefits are also being proposed by AMC for further discussion.  They include having the theater’s auditoriums available for use by community groups, providing public art at the project site or at the existing AMC 7, and implementing a Traffic Demand Management program for AMC employees to reduce vehicle trips.

AMC estimates that construction of the project will cost approximately $30 million and take about 12 months.

The community expressed a number of concerns about the project. Santa Monica resident and real estate attorney Stanley Epstein noted that AMC is a tenant at the Broadway 4 property. Therefore, if the AMC stops leasing it the city will not grant another Conditional Use Permit for a cinema use because the city wants to restrict the number of cinema seats in the city.  This in his view will cause the property to be devalued, which could result in litigation by the property owner against the city and the partnership developing the new AMC theater. 

Another issue brought up by the residents was the cinema complex would create more traffic and parking problems on 4th Street.  Also of concern was that the many amenities this theater would offer could cause it to be more expensive than existing city theaters and result in a loss of affordable theater seating. Others questioned whether the decline in city cinema attendance was the result of other reasons other than the fact that the city theaters are outdated.  Lastly, some thought the proposal seemed disconnected from the Third Street Promenade.

This meeting was the first in the float up process for this project.  The float up process allows a developer to get feedback from the community and other city bodies on their project before formally applying for a DA with the city.  

The Planning Commission will review the project’s conceptual plans on April 21. On May 11 it will be reviewed by the City Council.


HANNAH HEINEMAN

Mirror Contributing Writerhannah@smmirror.com

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