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Santa Monica Poised to Become Film Mecca

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Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

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Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Lookout Staff

June 17, 2014 -- It’s been three decades since a movie theater was built in Downtown Santa Monica, and the area’s aging movie houses have fallen far behind the times. Now, that’s all about to change.

Los Angeles-based luxury theater company ArcLight Cinemas has teamed with Santa Monica Place-owner Macerich to open two new theaters Downtown, adding as many as 29 state-of-the-art screens and 4,200 seats to the bustling commercial district over the next two years. Also, two existing movie houses are slated for upgrades.

It’s an exciting time in Santa Monica for movie buffs.

“We’re delighted that all the projects are moving forward,” said Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. “Movie theaters were one of the initial economic engines driving the success of Downtown, and one of the elements used most regularly by residents.”

The timing couldn’t be better. Third Street Promenade is preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary this fall, and since its opening, new state-of-the-art movie houses with stadium seating and cutting-edge technology have opened in competing venues, luring Westside audiences from Downtown.

City officials said movie theater attendance has dropped by about 55 percent between the 1990s and 2012, compared to just 11 percent nationwide during that same period. The decline continued from 2012 into 2013, when the closure of the Criterion Theater in March 2013 led to a 12.5 percent drop in downtown movie-going attendance.

At its April 22 meeting, the City Council unanimously approved a joint Macerich-ArcLight 13-screen, 1,500 seat theater on the third floor of Santa Monica Place.

On the same night, the Council voted to negotiate with the Macerich-ArcLight team to design a theater complex with between 12 and 16 screens and 2,400 to 2,700 seats. The state-of-the-art complex would replace Parking Structure #3 on Fourth Street between Arizona Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard.

Originally AMC was interested in the project but dropped out in 2012 after the company said it wasn’t economically viable. Instead, the national theatre chain is considering an overhaul of the two movie houses it currently owns on the Promenade that were built in the 1980s.

In addition, the Laemmle on Second Street, one of the Westside’s premiere art movie houses, is looking to add two screens to the existing four by scaling down seating for the existing screens.

“We will, once again, be giving people who live and work in Santa Monica a fantastic movie-going experience they can all enjoy,” Rawson said.

It won’t be a long wait. The Santa Monica Place theater could be up and running by October 2015, and the Fourth Street project could break ground next year, officials said.

That’s good news for the American Film Market (AFM), the annual tradeshow for the international independent movie industry that has brought thousands of visitors and millions of dollars to Downtown every year since 1991.

Recently, AFM organizers worried that the dwindling number of theater seats Downtown — the Criterion 6 shuttered last year — and the outdated venues would put a damper on the tradeshow, which holds some 700 screenings in November each year.

But at the April 22 Council meeting, the tradeshow’s managing director, Jonathan Wolf, applauded the Council’s decision to move forward with both ArcLight projects. In light of the decision, Wolf told the Council AFM would commit to staying in Santa Monica for another 25 years.

AFM officials also are monitoring the Civic Auditorium restoration process, currently in the initial community input stage. The City Council shut down the Civic Auditorium last year after plans for a $54 million overhaul of the historic building were scuttled when the project lost funding after Gov. Jerry Brown axed California’s 400 redevelopment agencies.

Once the 3,000-seat venue that hosted the Academy Awards reopens, AFM could bring a world-class film festival — on par with Cannes in France — to Santa Monica, Wolf said.

Downtown officials are excited by the possibility.

“It would be wonderful to have a world-class film festival here,” Rawson said. “It would establish Santa Monica, and the Downtown, as a major movie destination.”

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