DOWNTOWN — The performances were impressive but the ending was kind of predictable at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Council voted quickly and unanimously to approve the first new Downtown movie theater in decades.

An ArcLight Cinema with 10 to 13 screens and up to 1,500 seats will be built on the third level of the Santa Monica Place mall and could be completed by next year.

Council also voted unanimously to move forward in negotiations aimed at placing another larger ArcLight on Fourth Street where Parking Structure 3 currently sits.

The Bloomingdale’s building, which is currently 56-feet-tall, will rise to somewhere between 78 and 84 feet to accommodate the screens.

Santa Monica Place mall owner Macerich, developer of the proposed ArcLight and the approved one, will make a $120,000 contribution to the Colorado Esplanade, a pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare connecting the incoming Expo Light Rail station to Downtown.

They will also fund Downtown wayfinding signage. ArcLight will provide closed caption devices at all its theaters for people with hearing impairments and will make three screens available for AFM, the world’s largest independent film market.

ArcLight executives committed to look locally when hiring.

During the public portion of the item nearly all residents were supportive of the project.

City officials and Downtown consultants have made clear that the city by the sea desperately needs modern cinemas. The Criterion closed last year. The Laemmle recently announced it would cut its seat count in half. AMC has not made any announcements but city officials have predicted they may also cut their seats.

Last year AFM-founder Jonathan Wolf complained about Santa Monica’s movie theater situation noting that the shuttering of the Civic Auditorium, which is needs a massive retrofitting, forced him to show more films in hotel ballrooms.

At Tuesday’s meeting Wolf urged council to approve the project.

“We’re going to be in dire straits this year but we’re thrilled with the possibility of having the ArcLight coming forward,” he said. “I go to the ArcLight frequently; it fits for us.”

Kathleen Rawson, president and CEO of Downtown Santa Monica Inc. said that cinemas were the “cornerstone” of Downtown’s late-‘80s redevelopment.

“A lot of people say the Third Street Promenade is so great because of its location: Well in 1986 to 1989 we were actually in exactly the same place,” she said. “One of the key successes of course was the council’s action at the time to concentrate movie theaters in the Downtown. … That created the pedestrian flow that supported the restaurants and later the retail.”

Macerich executives claim that in 1993 there were 2.3 million annual theater-goers in Downtown compared to less than 800,000 today.

Council member Gleam Davis pointed out that local theaters could reduce traffic.

“I think on Earth Day we could assume that people would not be driving out of town if we were to offer them better theater experiences here in town,” she said.

Second, larger ArcLight

Council’s approval, later in the meeting, of an exclusive negotiating agreement with ArcLight and Macerich sets into motion the possibility for a new, larger movie theater on Fourth Street.

This ArcLight would have 12 to 16 screens but could hold up to 2,700 viewers.

AMC signed a similar agreement for the same location where Parking Structure 3 currently sits but the deal fell through in 2012.

Rawson also spoke on the second cinema.

“I’m not going to repeat what I just said, because it’s really ditto,” she said.

She asked city officials and ArcLight to go big with this project.

“The (Downtown Santa Monica Inc.) board feels very strongly and has advocated for many years that this theater be a large theater — as large as we can put there that makes sense,” Rawson said.

Early plans for the complex include large auditorium theaters and at least one large IMAX or IMAX-like screen.

Macerich and Arclight still have to go through City Hall’s development agreement process, making stops at the Architectural Review Board, Planning Commission, and, once again, council.

Construction might not begin until 2016 or 2017 and could take a year and a half to complete.

Council members were anxious to approve the agreement and to expedite the process, if possible.

“I understand and agree that we have to go through the public process,” said Councilman Tony Vazquez. “But if there’s anything we can do from the council on the staff side to support the staff and hopefully expedite this … it’d be nice to get this up sooner rather than later.”

dave@smdp.com

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