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More Than One Way To Put More Butts In The Rheem’s Seats – Build Them An Apartment Complex Across The Street

Rendering/Adjacent 4-story apartment complex/Rheem

Many Moragans – and others – say they want to keep the landmark Rheem Theatre in place and doing what it does best. The owner of the property says it was not financially prudent to keep the faded Neon Queen open, and has closed the theatre “temporarily.”

But, as developers and property owners seek new and creative ways to bring their projects to fruition in towns and cities where they may not have always been welcomed, a “something-for-something” deal is being forged in Rheem – and is up for initial consideration this week.

In this instance the Golden Carrot being offered by property owner Mahesh Puri is the Theatre itself, with Puri and town leaders considering a plan calling for him to transfer ownership of the Rheem back to the town in exchange for permission to build – wait for it – a 4-story, 48-unit (plus two commercial spaces) apartment building feet away in a currently scrubby lot across the alley from the theatre.

Still in its preliminary stages, the deal so far has been met with a fairly positive reaction, with civic officials writing:

“The town expresses its willingness to amend zoning regulations and the general plan for an adjacent empty lot between the theater and town hall, in exchange for the theater owner transferring ownership of the theater property to the Moraga Community Foundation.”

We’re fairly certain we can plot local reaction to this most recent effort to “Save the Theatre,” and we’ll be watching to see what the locals say. We would expect some (many?) to welcome the arrival of a potential consumer and commercial base in Rheem, while others to decry the scope of the project and the potential impacts that many more people will have on one of the town’s most significant commercial crossroads.

What do you think? Going to put a deposit down on a future downtown pied-à-terre? Or is this just the latest in a series of controversial land swaps and developments to come into focus as available land dries up here and elsewhere in the 24/680?


  1. I’m torn on this one.

    I like saving “the Rheem”, apartments are needed in town (yes?), and the location would provide a good flow of customers for the local retailers and restaurants.

    – A 4 story complex seems extreme in that location (or any, for that matter)
    – I’m not so sure the Town should be involved or inserting itself into what is or ought to be a transaction between the Theatre property owner and buyer
    – The zoning and general plan variances/amendments have $ value that the Town will not receive,
    and it instead is transferrring whatever that value is to encourage the transfer of the theatre property ownership. One also has to wonder if they’d even consider the variances/amendments otherwise

  2. It seems — big. That’s the theatre off to the left there? Traffic? Not all of those people are going to walk around the center all day.

    • @Dan – It is. The colored portion of the rendering represents the proposed structure with the Rheem off to the left and city offices off to the right.

  3. It appears that urban planners believe the only way for us to live is to stack us all one atop the other in little boxes.

  4. The Oakland A’s are looking for a place to build a new stadium. Their deal fell through. I can visit my elderly parents and walk to the ballgame…

  5. The rendering does not look to be in scale, with the 4 story apartment building looking dwarfed.
    Let’s not forget that the owner has a dead theater he can’t make money on. Of course he wants to get rid of it!

  6. Trying to follow the money. I assume the property owner and developer stand to gain the most out of this deal if it happens. The current theatre manager continues managing the business but at a more favorable rate? The town gets — what — a marquee with its name on it and more tax revenue?

  7. How is it city government is suddenly so involved whenever there is development on the horizon but absolutely abscent when it comes to issues current residents struggle with from traffic issues onward.

    This mentality of we can’t even begin to take care of our current city and residents but that money and progress will come from adding more residents.

    Anyone who has driven Moraga road knows exactly why this is said.

    Its downright offensive lazy and greedy.

    No thanks

  8. It’s a creative idea. Exchange a zoning variance for a property transfer. The Town doesn’t have much cash, so, if a deal is made, the Town achieves an objective (saving the Rheem Theater) without a major cash outlay.

    My guess is this is very early in the negotiation. I very much doubt that even if the deal goes through, we end up with 48 condos.

    The comments about traffic are hilarious! We occasionally have a bit of moderate traffic in Moraga, typically around school hours. For various reasons, from changing commute patterns, to the advent of autonomous vehicles, traffic is likely to further diminish over the coming years as this project is contemplated. There are reasons to support this idea, and reasons to oppose it. But I don’t see traffic as a big issue either way.

  9. If the bay area is losing people to other states why do we keep building more housing? They must be coming from somewhere.

  10. It would be nice for the people of the area to have that old theatre because it is a landmark — really the only one in the area. This sort of deal is being done a lot lately. If it goes through I would say that apartment complex would be a LOT smaller than originally described. Same thing in Lafayette. Same issues. As far as traffic being a problem and development adding to it, come with me on my commute.

  11. I think it would be a mistake to not to take advantage of an opportunity to Save the Rheem Theatre. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet. Both sides have leverage so might be worth trying to hold out for a workable solution.

  12. Year after year a private business can’t make a profit running the theater and we assume the Town of Moraga’s bureaucracy will? Save it and hang it around the necks of taxpayers? Brilliant!

  13. I’m afraid it’s going to get worse before it gets better. My long commute went away but I still am forced to make short trips and anyone who says getting around isn’t problematic probably doesn’t actually live here.

  14. I agree that the rendering is pretty bad and hopefully it will get more representative as this proposal moves along but right now its way to big for that space. Many cities are struggling to meet housing restrictions and quotas and trying to make their downtown areas vital and vibrant. But when its all over and the ink is dry I can’t find anything that would make me want to visit the shopping area. But I can see something that would make me stay away

  15. So…a foundation gets an old theater that no one can make a profit from, and the town “amends” its zoning laws to allow the construction of new apartments?

    Interesting that the town of Moraga would be willing to add traffic congestion, and additional crowding in its school system, for the sake of a movie theater. It’s a windfall to the property owner. With a memorandum of understanding that was negotiated behind closed doors.

    What a sell out to the quality of life in Moraga. Bespeaks to the town’s need for developer fees and the ugly political mess of razing the theater or seeing it dormant forever. Expedience wins. It may be winter, but Moraga needs more sunshine.

    ps: How did you define “a fairly positive reaction”? The town counsel agenda doesn’t characterize it one way or another.

    • @Scott – Morning, Scott… see how closely we read? Almost missed your last question which we believe was addressed to us and which is totally fair. Answer: We gauge public sentiment based on contact with members of the public met at large as well as through conversations and comments from our readership. The “fairly positive reaction” characterization was made after multiple contacts with people in favor of saving the old theatre.

  16. I’m with “Brentochan” on this one. I’m thinking this will have to get scaled way back before moving ahead. We’ve seen this happen in Lafayette too.

  17. The Do Nothing Alternatives: Let the theater deteriorate until 50 years from now it just collapses. Continue to make the businesses that share the theater building continue until they close down further deteriorating the business core in Moraga. Eliminate a huge chunk of the entertainment options in Moraga. Eliminate meeting space and special event venues. Reduce the Moraga tax base, both property and sales tax. There are more do nothing alternatives. I’m sure you all can think of a few.

    • @Larry – Thanks for posting, Larry. Editorial Aside: Are you any relation to Ray Tessler, friend and former editor of ours?

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