DOWNTOWN — The American Film Market, one of the world’s largest gatherings of independent filmmakers and distributors, will remain in Santa Monica through 2017, according to the Independent Film & Television Alliance.

New agreements with 17 local hotels will keep AFM at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, the market’s home since 1991, with additional exhibition space continuing at JW Marriott’s Le Merigot Beach Hotel and with conferences continuing at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows.

The Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates the market will contribute more than $100 million to the local economy over the next six years.

The alliance, which produces AFM, had been flirting with the idea of moving the market to Downtown Los Angeles where it could command more affordable hotel room rates. That worried Santa Monica merchants and restaurateurs who have come to rely on the market to fuel the economy during the winter months when tourism tends to die down.

Market attendees caught wind of the idea and launched an online petition calling on the alliance to keep AFM in Santa Monica because of its seaside location, wide variety of restaurants and retail.

The threat to move also spurred Loews management to come back with a better deal after the alliance balked at a price hike proposed in the spring.

“It’s great news,” said Paul LeClair, Loews general manager. “As a community, we’ve worked hard together to send a resonating message to the alliance and it looks like it worked. We’re thrilled. We really feel that [those who attend and produce the market] are an extension of our family and we recognize it is an iconic event in Santa Monica and important to the success of our local economy.”

The alliance would not release any further details on the deal.

“Our stated goal from the start of this process has been to provide the best environment, resources and value for the world’s buyers and sellers and, after long and careful deliberations, we believe remaining in Santa Monica will achieve all of those goals,” alliance President-CEO Jean Prewitt said.

Those familiar with the negotiations said the alliance liked that Santa Monica will be welcoming in the coming years a new light rail line; an estimated 700 new hotel rooms in Downtown, including mid-priced hotels; a renovated Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, providing AFM with an opportunity for red-carpet premieres; a 12-screen AMC cineplex with an IMAX theater; and two new parks in the heart of the Civic Center.

“We are very excited that the American Film Market will remain in Santa Monica,” said Misti Kerns, president and CEO of the Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau said. “This was definitely a citywide level of commitment and we appreciate everyone’s help during the negotiation process.”

Kerns said city officials, as well as representatives from various hotels and the business community collaborated and developed a persuasive pitch that helped “paint the picture” of what Santa Monica will look like in the near future.

That said, the alliance didn’t make its decision solely based on promises for a better future. (Projects like the AMC cineplex and a renovated Civic won’t be completed until 2014 or early 2015). It looked at what Santa Monica currently offers visitors, said Jonathan Wolf, managing director of AFM.

“Santa Monica is a very unique environment where you can bring people from 70 countries and they can walk out of their hotel room, look at the ocean and choose between 50-plus restaurants and never really have to go east of Fifth Street,” he said. “Our travelers are not your typical conventioneers. They prefer familiar environments … .”

AFM in 2012 is scheduled to start Oct. 31 and run through Nov. 7.

Founded in 1981, the AFM is a premiere global marketplace where Hollywood’s decision makers gather to hammer out production and distribution deals. Officials with AFM estimate that more than $800 million in deals were sealed at the market this year, which attracted more than 8,000 industry leaders.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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