CITY HALL — Several key intersections Downtown will see “significant and unavoidable impacts” if a proposed movie theater is built where a parking structure now stands, according to an environmental impact report.
Plans put the proposed AMC-12 at a block-busting 70,000 square feet of floor area, which will include 2,167 seats, 2,500 feet of retail space and 2,250 feet of restaurant and lounge area that would be open to the public.
It would stand 56 feet tall, with two of the auditoriums completely below grade and two partially submerged, requiring an excavation of up to 36 feet.
The theater will take the place of the existing Parking Structure 3, which would be demolished. That would ax 344 parking spaces, with no replacement parking contemplated in the design of the theater itself.
Residents have until Nov. 26 to get their comments in on the environmental report.
AMC, the company the City Council contracted with in 2009 to bring the project to fruition, sold it as a state-of-the-art theater in a town with mainly aging stock, something that City Hall is itching to fix.
Quality theaters create an anchor that attracts people from other areas who then spend money shopping or eating out, said Jason Harris, with the Housing and Economic Development Department.
“We want a diverse and well-balanced Downtown with a variety of activities,” Harris said. “We do have theaters, just not the highest standards and most competitive product you can have.”
City Hall is still in negotiations with AMC and Metropolitan Pacific Capital, the partner in the project, over a development agreement for the space. Development agreements are contracts between City Hall and developers that allow projects to go above and beyond the dictates of the zoning code in return for benefits like investment in the transportation system or money for art.
City Hall hopes that the negotiations will finish within the month, Harris said.
Of course, any time a new attraction comes to town, traffic comes with it.
According to the report, intersections at Fourth Street and Broadway, Fourth Street and Colorado and Lincoln and Santa Monica boulevards will see “significant and unavoidable impacts” as a result of the project, regardless of what mitigation measures are in place.
Traffic can be worsened when patrons have issues finding parking.
According to the report, the added pressure on existing parking spaces with increased development with no additional parking included could cause people to drive more in search of a parking space, a practice called “cruising.”
“While mitigation may reduce cruising behavior, there is no certainty as to how many vehicle trips would be reduced at affected intersections,” the report reads.
Where those extra people will be cruising from or cruising to, however, is hard to define.
Downtown Santa Monica already has several movie theaters, most of which are owned by AMC including the AMC Loews Broadway 4, AMC Criterion 6 and AMC Santa Monica 7. When the City Council directed staff to seek out a company willing to bring a modern theater to town, it specifically required that the total number of seats in Santa Monica remain virtually unchanged.
It was unclear at the time how another company would have been able to deliver on a promise to reduce the number of seats at other private movie theaters in Santa Monica.
AMC proposed to do it by closing the Broadway 4, located in the Promenade Gateway building on Third Street Promenade near Broadway.
Although that was being negotiated in 2009, it’s uncertain if that option is still on the table.
The company itself will not comment on negotiations, said Ryan Noonan, a spokesperson with AMC.
A representative of Promenade Gateway, the company that owns the building in which the Broadway 4 is located, declined to comment on the matter Thursday afternoon, and city officials say they have had nothing to do with the negotiations.
“The applicant has not provided a final seat reduction plan to the city,” Roxanne Tanemori, a city planner, said. “This component of the project will be finalized through the development agreement.”
Rather than jump into that sticky issue, the draft environmental report examines the possibility of closing down the Criterion 6 and turning it into retail space.
That’s considered the “worst case scenario” because planners view retail as an intense use that would cause the most traffic and environmental impacts, Tanemori said.
“This reasonable worst case seat reduction scenario was chosen because it identifies the theater space that would create the largest amount of converted retail square footage — and would create the greatest potential impact to traffic and associated parking demand,” she said.
According to the report, no other impacts of the project are considered unavoidable.
That may come as a surprise to many Santa Monicans, especially those that attended a meeting held in May 2011 to discuss the project.
Almost every comment collected by staff related to parking in the area, particularly given the demolition of Parking Structure 3 for the project and the rebuild of Parking Structure 6 which will take several hundred parking spaces offline.
Staff believes that the new theater will not open until after Parking Structure 6 is rebuilt. The structure will have almost twice as many spaces as it did before, almost replacing the spaces lost in Parking Structure 3.
The report also mentions that there will be additional parking built into a theoretical development at Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue, directly across the street from the theater.