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Hopes on Hold for Arclight Movie Theater in Downtown Santa Monica


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

August 24, 2017 -- Hopes are on hold for a state-of-the-art movie house in downtown Santa Monica officials thought could help stem the flood of film goers who leave the city to see blockbusters on IMAX screens.

Negotiations over the proposed Arclight movie theater on 4th Street ended in late June after the developer, Macerich G3, LLC, pulled out over issues of profitability, said Jason Harris, the City’ economic development manager who has been involved in the talks.

The proposed four-story, 100,000-square-foot development at 1318 4th Street would have included restaurants and retail, built for the 12-to-16 screen movie theater which would have provided up to 2,700 seats.

Proposed Arclight Theater
Proposed Arclight Theater (Rendering courtesy of Macerich G3, LLC)

One of its key feature was an IMAX-style screen -- the first in Santa Monica and one of less than a handful on the Westside.

To build the move-house complex required demolishing Parking Structure Number 3 and its 325 existing parking spaces ("Movie Theater Proposal Set for Initial Public Review," April 6, 2010).

But the City hoped its screens would make the new Arclight theater a good option for the American Film Market and other such festivals ("Santa Monica Poised to Become Film Mecca," June 17, 2014).

Other pluses were a premium immersive sound, stadium seating, 3D format technology, reserved seating, hearing loop technology, and digital projection and sound.

A cinema cafe and lounge also accessible by the general public and specialized food areas were also to be offered.

But Harris said Macerich determined the estimated $40 million project would not pencil out, due in part to the $10 million Arclight Theater it opened about two years ago in downtown.

“This was going to be the second (Arclight) cinema,” he said. “It was the financial cost of (the new) development” which prompted Macerich, which owns Santa Monica Place Mall, to bow out.

The first of the two projects opened in 2015, offering a luxury 12-screen cinema on the third level of the mall. It came as downtown was enjoying a rejuvenation of its aging movie houses. A new one hadn’t been built in three decades, and two existing theaters were undergoing significant upgrades.

Macerich filed plans for the 4th Street movie house as the theater at the mall was being built. But as planning for the 4th Street movie house progressed, Harris said Macerich became concerned the market might not provide the originally anticipated profit.

As the City has worked to redesign downtown, planners anticipated the IMAX screen and the overall 4th Street movie complex would bring back movie goers who had been lured to new theaters in Westwood, Century City and Culver City.

“If you’re going to the new Star Wars, you want to see it on the biggest screen possible,” Harris said.

And the debut of the Expo Light Rail last year was a big plus too, since it ushered in easier -- and faster -- access to downtown Santa Monica to those from elsewhere.

But not all hope is lost for a theater at the 4th Street location, Harris said.

City planners will bring the situation to the City Council in the fall to discuss whether a different type of cinema house is viable, he said.

“I never say never,” Harris said, “because you never know.”


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