With a slate of summer blockbusters such as The Dark Knight and Sex and the City around the corner, movie theaters project a big summer. One week before the release of the latest Indiana Jones feature, however, are Ventura County movie temples doomed?
The land beneath one Ventura movie theater is up for sale, another faces stiff competition from a proposed theater in Oxnard, and a state-of-the art luxury cinema under construction as part of a major mall redevelopment in Thousand Oaks may have unexpected consequences for another nearby theater.
Reports that Ventura may lose its Century Stadium 16 movie house to competition from a new theater in Oxnard’s RiverPark development have circulated more frequently over the past month. The theater, located on Johnson Drive, is the oldest first-run theater in the city. Along with Downtown Ventura’s Century 10, the theater became part of the Cinemark theater chain in 2006 when the Texas company purchased San Rafael-based Century Theatres.
Five separate independent sources have informed the Reporter that Cinemark is close to finalizing terms for a theater at The Collection at RiverPark, a shopping center under construction in northwest Oxnard by Shea Properties. The center is the commercial element of Riverpark, a gigantic development of houses and apartments where home prices have plummeted during the recent real estate slump (Shea was joined by Centex and Stand Pacific Homes in developing RiverPark).
Despite the dire residential news, work has continued on the commercial center, including the more than 60,000-square-foot movie theater site.
Advocates of Oxnard’s struggling Downtown are already smarting from news the city of Oxnard loaned RiverPark’s developers money to help pay for The Collection despite assurances it would support Plaza Cinemas, which opened in 2005, although an agreement was made earlier this year between the city and the owners of Plaza Cinemas to settle the matter.
Ventura’s moviegoers may want to take note, however. RiverPark and the Century 16 are each located on opposite sides of the Santa Clara River. If it were to open a movie theater in the Oxnard shopping center, it is unclear whether Cinemark would be prepared to operate two competing first-run theaters so close to one another, particularly with another theater seven miles away in Downtown Ventura.
As it stands, though, no officials involved in any potential deal will confirm Cinemark has any plans to operate the new RiverPark location. Shea Properties’ spokeswoman Julie Ball said her company never comments on any potential leases, and no public announcement was made by the company. Likewise, no official announcement has been made by Cinemark about plans to open a theater in Oxnard or to alter operations at either of its locations in Ventura.
“We’re looking at a lot of different sites in a lot of different countries,” said Cinemark Vice President James Meredith.
On May 9, three days before the Reporter spoke to Meredith, Cinemark announced during a conference call and earnings report that it had signed commitments for 14 new movie theaters through the end of 2008 and plans for seven new theaters soon after that.
Meredith said there are no conditions set by the company about how many theaters it is willing to operate within the same market.
“We look at every market individually,” he said. “Each site stands on its own.”
Meanwhile, Ventura could be facing the loss of another movie theater, the Buenaventura 6. Originally opened by Mann Theatres, the theater — now operated by Regency Theatres as a discount second-run house — sits on property for sale for nearly $8 million. Although the broker for the property did not return calls seeking comment for this story, a listing on a commercial real estate Web site suggests the location could be repurposed for other functions and that the city is “on board for redevelopment of this site.”
Alex Schneider, an assistant planner in the city’s economic development department, said the property has been for sale for some time, but the theater’s fate depends on who buys the property. Still, he said in the May 7 phone call, municipal officials are aware of the possibility fewer people will stay inside the city limits to see movies, one of many topics that will be on economic development officials’ minds when they visit an International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) event later this month.
“It’s a free market, but we’re going to the ICSC and that’s one of the things that’s on our list, to keep our theaters,” Schneider said.
The Ventura Regency site has special significance for movie buffs who visit its Thursday night Insomniac Cinema series of classic film showings. Andrew Gaultieri, the organizer of the series, said he’ll continue to host Insomniac Cinema as long as Regency operates a theater there (Gaultieri manages two other Regency locations in the county).
Gaultieri also said he doesn’t see the theater’s lease ending any time soon.
“We heard a year ago that the property owner was trying to sell,” he said.
Gaultieri said Insomniac Cinema continues to be a moneymaker for Regency in Ventura.
“It definitely adds a significant source of income for them, and they pretty much have to do nothing,” he said. “Since it’s basically a service for the community, people associate it with the theater.”
A former employee of Century 16, Gaultieri doesn’t believe any changes will likely occur there soon or that Cinemark is close to starting construction on a new theater in Oxnard.
“[Century 16] did really well while I was there, and it still does,” he said. “I would be amazed if they moved on that in the next few years.”
Instead, Gaultieri believes the biggest news for filmgoers in Ventura County is Florida-based Muvico’s plans to open a luxury theater as part of a renovation at The Oaks Shopping Center in Thousand Oaks. That location will feature huge curved screens, valet parking, VIP areas, children’s playrooms with certified educators, high-class refereshments and even 21-and-over sections with top shelf wine and liquor.
“That will probably put out the [Mann Theatres-operated nine-screen theater at] Janss Marketplace and probably definitely put a dent in Mann’s operation,” Gaultieri said.
Mann officials could not be reached for comment.