The drama at Tuesday’s Santa Monica City Council meeting was not quite an edge-of-your-seat thriller, but in the end local residents came away with a storybook happy ending.
This real life feel-good story is also of the reel life nature, with Santa Monica finally ending its decades-long drought of no new movie theaters built within city limits. Council members voted on two agenda items April 22 that could result in two ArcLight Cinemas coming within a proverbial stone’s throw of each other in downtown Santa Monica.
Council members first unanimously approved a development agreement (DA) to bring a 10- to 13-seat movie theater to the Bloomingdale’s building at Santa Monica Place, making it the first cinema house to be built in the City since the 1980s.
During the discussion on the dais about the ArcLight Cinemas DA, council members urged the movie theater operator to make every effort to maintain an effective local hiring program that actually resulted in Santa Monica residents being employed at the multiplex.
A second vote authorized City Hall to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with ArcLight Cinemas and developer Macerich to bring up to 16 movie-viewing auditoriums to 1320 Fourth Street (currently occupied by Parking Structure 3), about a quarter-mile away from Santa Monica Place.
The ArcLight Cinemas approved for Santa Monica Place would be built in a vacant space on the third level of the Bloomingdale’s Building. Its 10- to 13-screen space would fit an estimated 1,500 moviegoers, City staff stated.
Proposed community benefits for the Santa Monica Place chapter of ArcLight Cinemas include funding for Esplanade development and downtown wayfinding, having three screens made available for the American Film Market (AFM), ensuring local hiring provisions for concessions and theater operations, and providing for a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program and sustainable design.
ArcLight Cinemas’ second potential movie theater a couple blocks away could be larger if negotiations go as planned. According to City staff, the freestanding ArcLight Cinemas at 1320 Fourth Street could house between 12 and 16 auditoriums and maintain a capacity of up to 2,700 people. City staff also stated the theater would also have street-level access and at least one IMAX-style screen.
According to the City staff report, the height of the Bloomingdale’s Building would be increased from its current 56 feet to somewhere between 78 and 84 feet. However, no additional floor area is proposed for Santa Monica Place’s ArcLight, City staff stated.
If ultimately built, the ArcLight Cinemas on Fourth Street would not exceed the 84-foot height restriction.
Construction on the Fourth Street ArcLight Cinemas could begin either in 2016 or 2017, depending upon council approvals and the entitlements process.
With the exclusive negotiations unanimously approved, a project team is now expected to develop conceptual designs and seek community feedback on those concepts. Once feedback is received and incorporated into the design plans, City officials and the developer would perform an environmental analysis on the project.
The process would conclude with the DA process.
City staff stated the project must beet the criteria and standards of the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP).
The forward-moving plans to bring a pair of ArcLight Cinemas to Downtown Santa Monica come in light of a movie theater recently shutting down on the Third Street Promenade and a failed attempt to bring a new AMC multiplex to the area.
Also, City staff pointed out movie-going attendance has dropped about 55 percent between the 1990s and 2012, compared to just 11 percent during the same period nationwide.
The declined continued from 2012 into 2013, when the closure of the Criterion Theater in March 2013 lead to a 12.5 percent drop in movie-going attendance.
Movie-going attendance in Santa Monica is expected to drop again this year.
The reported sharp decline in movie-going attendance is why City Hall is proposing having two ArcLight Cinemas built in downtown Santa Monica.
“While a new cinema has been proposed for the third floor of Santa Monica Place, such development, even if approved and built, would not satisfy even a portion of the demand for contemporary cinema experiences in the downtown and in Santa Monica generally,” City staff stated.
Council member Bob Holbrook was not present for the April 22 council meeting.