DOWNTOWN — If all goes according to plan, in roughly three years Oscar winners will be lined up along a red carpet on Fourth Street for a premiere of the next box office blockbuster.

That’s what the developers of a proposed AMC multi-plex in Downtown believe will happen when they demolish a city-owned parking structure and replace it with 12 “state-of-the-art” screening rooms, complete with a four-story-high Imax theater with 3D capabilities, stadium seating and other amenities, said Raj Valluri, vice president of design at American Multi-Cinema Inc.

“What we believe is that this will be a flagship theater for AMC,” Valluri said, comparing the concept to AMC theaters in New York City’s Times Square. “We intend for this theater to be a place where studios launch their premiers, making it one of the top theaters in the country.”

Valluri and AMC’s partner, Metropolitan Pacific Capital in Santa Monica, this week have met with residents and representatives with the Bayside District Corp. to gather input on the theater proposal, an 83,000-square-foot complex offering a total of 2,197 “pleather” seats, 2,100 square feet of retail space and an interior restaurant and bar that would be open to the general public.

The theater would offer reserved seating for guests, digitally-broadcast concerts, major studio releases as well as smaller, independent films, and “sensory-friendly” screenings for children with disabilities. AMC has plans to sell movie memorabilia, something the theater chain has never done before. There are also plans to reconfigure concessions to make it more like a cafeteria with various food and beverage stations offering more than just popcorn and hot dogs.

The theater would replace Parking Structure 3, a five-story structure in the 1300 block of Fourth Street that has 324 spaces and was scheduled to be replaced with a larger, earthquake-safe structure as part of City Hall’s $180 million Downtown parking plan.

As part of that plan, City Hall has spent $41 million acquiring roughly 67,000 square feet at the corner of Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue where a replacement structure, retail and residential could be constructed to cover spaces lost to the theater project. That plan, along with the theater concept, are still in the early stages and could be more than a year or more away from planning approval.

Looking to make Downtown a more attractive destination and remain competitive with retail hot spots like The Grove, city officials and business leaders have for years discussed the possibility of updating the area’s aging movie houses, which are more than 20 years old.

There are currently three cinema companies operating four movie houses in Downtown, with a total of 21 screens and over 5,500 seats, according to a city staff report.

John Warfel of Metropolitan Pacific and a member of the Bayside board said theater attendance declined by 30 percent over a 10-year period ending in 2008 and fears more movie goers have left in the years since, going to The Bridge in Culver City or theaters in Sherman Oaks or Century City.

“We are bleeding theater goers,” Warfel said. “We are way down.”

The proposed theater would “bring back what we had,” Warfel added.

Residents and members of Bayside’s Land and Asset Committee seemed excited about the possibilities but also had reservations about the lack of parking available to accommodate a modest increase in theater seats. Parking is already a problem for Downtown and if a replacement structure is not built in conjunction with the theater, that could only exacerbate the problem and drive shoppers out of town.

Andy Agle, director of housing and economic development for City Hall, said no plan is in place for a replacement structure, however, the City Council has expressed interest in creating one at Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue to activate Fifth Street and alleviate traffic on Fourth, which is a heavily-used bus route. Adding retail and housing there was also discussed, with the possibility of putting parking underground if costs can be contained.

There seemed to be a commitment on behalf of City Hall to add more parking to accommodate the theater and other Downtown attractions. However, moving forward on two complex construction projects simultaneously could prove to be a challenge.

If there is a parking shortage because of construction, there is talk of moving monthly Downtown parking to an area below the Main Library and the Civic Center Structure.

In endorsing the theater project, Bayside board member Patricia Hoffman, co-chair of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, the leading political party in the city, made it clear that she wants to see significant community benefits provided by AMC, including making theaters available to community groups for entertainment and cultural events, displaying public art and creating a strategy to reduce traffic, such as offering employees incentives to take public transit.

Since the proposal does not fit within the city’s zoning code in regards to setbacks, a development agreement is required, Warfel said. The theater would be shorter than the current parking structure.

Valluri said designers want to make the theater as pedestrian friendly as possible, incorporating lots of glass to make it feel as if it is part of the street. Ground floor retail, outdoor dining and a lack of a traditional marquee are also ways of blending the theater in with its surroundings.

There is still the issue of whether or not AMC can reduce the overall number of theater seats in Downtown. City Hall wants to keep the number of seats relatively the same out of fear of drawing more traffic to the area.

To do that, AMC has offered to shutter its theater, Broadway 4, on the Third Street Promenade. There are some questions regarding whether or not AMC will be able to do so since it does not own the property where the theater is located. Discussions between AMC and the owner of the space, Promenade Gateway LLP, are still in the early stages.

Warfel expects the City Council to weigh in on the proposal in May, at which time it will direct staff to either start the development agreement process or go back to the drawing board.

No lease agreement between AMC and City Hall has been finalized, Agle said. An assessment of the project, if approved by council, still needs to be completed before setting the terms of a rental agreement.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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