Exhibitor makes progress on multiplex

Arthouse exhib Landmark Theaters, which has an abiding interest in building a state-of-the-art movie theater in L.A. to complement its successful Sunshine Cinema in Gotham, has marked substantial progress with a 14-screen proposal for the city’s lucrative Westside.

The circuit is within two weeks of deciding whether to go ahead with a plan it’s been tubthumping to neighborhood groups in recent weeks, execs said Tuesday. Under the proposal, developer MaceRich would custom-construct a glitzy multiplex to replace the Westside Pavilion’s current four-screener.

The cinema would relocate from its current site to the new Westside Too portion of the mall, which is open-air but would be enclosed as part of the developer’s other plans for the project. Landmark would lease the theater under a longer-term arrangement if a contract can be hammered out.

“There’s tremendous enthusiasm on both sides, and we’re hopeful of bringing it to fruition,” MaceRich senior VP Randy Brant said of negotiations with Landmark.

Meanwhile, sources said the meetings with local residents went well — despite previous community opposition to additional development at the site — partly because the latest proposal wouldn’t increase square footage.

Seating issue

To keep down project space requirements, the cinema would forgo stadium seating in most of its auditoriums, which require more space than conventional floor plans, but other design innovations would improve sightlines from the current theater.

“We’ve found a positive reception with the neighborhood groups, (and) things are heating up,” Landmark chief Paul Richardson said.

The project comes on the heels of an announcement in December that AMC Entertainment will rebuild its 14-screen commercial venue in the nearby Century City Shoppingtown mall to feature stadium seating and other state-of-the-art amenities (Daily Variety, Dec. 5). Final city approval is being awaited on that project, but a well-placed source said no problems are expected.

Just north of those two projects, in Westwood, Mann Theaters plans a multimillion-dollar renovation at its large Mann National venue. Details are sketchy, but sources said the makeover likely won’t include a switch to stadium seating.

Screening-room ambience

Design details for the Landmark project are tentative, but the plan under discussion calls for eight theater auditoriums of 175- to 300-seat capacity and six of about 100 seats apiece. The smaller theaters would offer extra-plush seats and a “screening room” ambience, Richardson said.

Total seating would soar to almost 2,300 from a current 850. The cinema would be constructed on levels two and three of the mall, with the Tony Roma’s restaurant now at the site relocating to the ground floor.

Landmark is said to be mulling certain financial aspects of the proposal. The circuit is still owned by Oaktree Capital, a buyout firm likely to sell on a moment’s notice if approached by the right buyer.

But it clearly has been reassuring to execs at both Landmark and MaceRich that once-skeptical local residents have been largely assuaged. Both Landmark and MaceRich reps attended meetings with neighborhood groups as recently as the past week.

‘Vast improvement’

“It was a vast improvement of what’s there now at the Westside Too,” said Terri Tippet, who is prexy of the West of Westwood Homeowners Assn. and chair of the Westside Neighborhood Council. “We’ve always said we wanted a project that worked.”

Some local residents were frightened at first by the prospect of a big multiplex, because they feared it would create more traffic in the area, she said. But it appears those fears have dissipated.

“With arthouse theaters, you don’t have the traffic you would have with a firstrun theater,” Tippet said.

Landmark operates 173 screens in 52 arthouses nationwide and 113 screens in 15 discount theaters operated as Silver Cinemas. Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema, a restored historic vaudeville theater, has quickly established itself as one of Gotham’s top arthouses since opening in December 2001.

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