Three locals with sufficient financial heft and a vision for what they say it will take to revive the city’s favorite – and fading – downtown movie house are asking the city council and the public for support of their plan.
The trio, couple Fred and Cathy Abbott together with family friend and physician Alex McDonald, say they have the financial wherewithal to purchase the beloved but neglected structure – and they have a plan to keep it alive afterward, even if it means tweaking the cinema’s intended purpose just a bit.
In a proposal submitted for consideration by the city council prior to their meeting Tuesday night, the Abbott/McDonald submitted a broad-stroke outline of what could be: “…In brief, the main floor cinema auditorium would be equipped with a stage, lighting and sound suitable for live performances as well as cinema,” they wrote. ” A smaller mezzanine screening and cafe space would provide a second venue for a film, comedy show or gathering, as well as a place for residents or groups to bring speakers, fundraise, have bar mitzvahs, wedding rehearsal dinners, reunions and anniversary parties…”
While the theater would continue to offer “art house” movie fare, its backers said: “Our research clearly shows that a town theater would continue to struggle financially if it were to depend solely on showing movies…”
Their proposal does not include plans for buying the adjacent four-plex – a structure the trio believes could one day be removed to make way for additional parking
Parking, long a problem for Plaza Way businesses, the theater in past years and obviously a concern if the proposed transformation is to proceed, would be addressed in a variety of ways, according to the prospective buyers/operators – including incentives for those using ride sharing options and cyclists.
So, there’s talk of eating and dining spaces – including a rooftop aerie – offering beer, wine and food from local vendors, while leaving “the showing of first run movies to the Rheem and Orinda Theaters…”
The Abbott/McDonald team said they have a Letter of Intent from the group that owns the theater, and “should have a Purchase and Sale Agreement within the next few weeks.”
They come before the council Tuesday evening in an effort to negotiate deal points allowing them to opt into the Plaza Way Overlay, approved in 2012 and offering local property owners some relief from the city’s parking requirements.
Initial indications from city staff call for the appointment of a subcommittee comprised of two council members and two planning commissioners to work with the new theater owners and hammer out a Plaza Way Overlay agreement mindful of the parking crunch in the area.
In the meantime, we’d be interested in hearing from locals. Would you support the new theater if it’s latest iteration is realized? Let us, and your neighbors, know…