DOWNTOWN — It was a big week for movie theaters in Santa Monica. A new ArcLight Cinema is officially going in on the third level of the Santa Monica Place mall. Another larger ArcLight, proposed for Fourth Street, took a step closer to becoming a reality.
City officials largely agree that new, modern theaters are needed Downtown; residents are getting in their cars and driving east to find suitable cinemas. The developer of both ArcLight projects, Macerich, cited data that shows that the number of annual Downtown movie-goers is down from 2.3 million in 1993 to less than 800,000 today.
If the Fourth Street ArcLight is approved, it would likely replace Parking Structure 3, which holds 324 vehicles. The Santa Monica Place ArcLight is not adding any parking. Where do you put the cars that people are driving to Santa Monica’s proposed movie theater Mecca?
City officials don’t believe it will be an issue.
With the addition of the mall ArcLight, Santa Monica Place would be required to have 2,465 parking spaces under current Municipal Code. They only have 2,335 spaces.
But, city officials point out, additional parking would not be required if the drafts of the Downtown Specific Plan and Zoning Ordinance pass as they are now.
Before sending the mall ArcLight in front of council, City Hall commissioned a parking study that showed that even if the opening of the incoming Expo Light Rail is delayed, Santa Monica Place will have three more parking spaces than they need during peak season.
In July of 2016, when Expo is supposed to be up and running, the mall would only need 2,332 spaces according to the study.
Once the Expo is functioning, Santa Monica Place will need 2,175 spaces on weekends in July, the busiest month for theaters in the city by the sea.
With all that in mind, council approved the project without requiring new parking.
The second ArcLight, which is a long way from being considered for approval by council, would definitely open after Expo.
AMC entered a similar negotiating agreement with City Hall for the same property but the deal fell through in 2012.
It is theoretically possible that ArcLight could build the theater complex and not entirely demolish the parking garage.
“They have not submitted any project drawings at this point,” Andy Agle, director of Housing and Economic Development told the Daily Press in an e-mail earlier this month. “However, the previous AMC project proposed for the site did not include parking as it is in the downtown parking district where parking is not required.”
City officials noted that Parking Structure 6 was recently reconstructed, adding 700 new spaces Downtown.
“The reconstruction of Parking Structure No. 6 has more additional parking spaces than those currently at the site, thereby facilitating the site’s reuse as a contemporary cinema,” city officials said in a report.
When Agle introduced the basic theater plans to Downtown Santa Monica Inc. (DTSM) earlier this month, he mentioned that additional parking at a massive project slated for Fourth and Fifth streets and Arizona Avenue — across the street from Parking Structure 3 — could potentially cover lost parking.
That project’s agreement, as currently written, includes 1,220 parking spaces, 580 of which would be public.
“I feel like in terms of parking we’re in pretty good shape,” Agle said at the DTSM meeting.
Parking was a huge sticking point in the AMC deal, Agle said at the meeting, because the concern was that Parking Structure 6 wouldn’t have reopened in time and, with the replacement of Parking Structure 3, they would be down more than 600 spaces Downtown.
“Although for the sake of the cinemas it’s really unfortunate things didn’t work out with AMC,” Agle said, “for the sake of parking we’re fortunate that we’ve been able to add over 300 spaces into the Downtown inventory to facilitate taking Parking Structure 3 off the market.”