Concerns Over Historic Alameda Theater Project

posted by scorpioangel71 on June 30, 2005 at 5:01 am

ALAMEDA, CA — The following email was sent in by Jennifer V:

“City Officials are endorsing a development deal to partially rehabilitate the historic Alameda Theater, and attach a new 2-story 7-screen multiplex with a 6-story parking garage.

As details of the plans have been made available, many citizens are horrified to learn that the Alameda Theater will not be completely renovated: the balconies will be inaccessible, the exterior will not be painted, the main theater will house stadium seating, and a historical mural that was painted over will not be restored. Futhermore, at least 3 holes will be made to connect the old theater to the new cineplex.

Citizens for a MegaPlex-Free Alameda has been formed, and our website, has the latest artist rendering, as well as additional information about the project and our concerns. There are also links to petitions, letters, and flyers.

The new addition in no way complements the historic theater. The building and parking structure’s massing will dwarf the theater. The design has little or no art deco features. Alameda is an island community with no highway access. The board is using $25 million of public money (development funds) to subsidize this project.

This project is surrounded by several historic buildings and will have a negative impact on this community, as well as desecrate the historic Alameda Theater. The theater is in dis-repair, but many are convinced there is a better way. The theater owner is refusing to sell, so the City is pursing Eminent Domain.

We are sending out a desperate call to anyone who may have any resources we can utilize to stop this project before it is too late!"

Theaters in this post

Comments (22)

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on June 30, 2005 at 7:12 am

Is seven screens really considered a ‘megaplex’ these days?

This plan sounds like it has serious flaws (why do you need a parking garage at all?), but the combination of a multi-screen cinema and a restored historic theatre can work. I recommend taking a look at the Somerville Theatre for a successful example of this.

scorpioangel71 on June 30, 2005 at 9:40 am

Many consider it a “megaplex” because of the scale compared to the size of out town. The project is 1 block from downtown, and while parking is needed, we feel a better,smaller design (one which would not make it the tallest structure around) or two smaller garages to ease traffic and allow all businesses downtown to benefit from the additional parking. Alameda is an island with no freeway access. There are nearly about 95 multiplex screens within 10 miles of this project. Personally, I don’t see why anyone in the neighboring cities of Oaklan, Berkeley, etc would come all the way to Alameda to get the same product in their own town. There have been several alternative offers, a current one being from the owner of Central Cinema in Almeda to run a 3 screen theater using the original building only. He is offering to partially fund the project, if the city will invest as well. If the true intent is to restore the theater and bring business in, offering independent films and other special events would be the way to do it and save money and reduce the risk of failure. We can always add on, if need be. My other personal concern is that the historic theater has been a second thought in the current plan. It’s like there has been a bait and switch, and this is the only way to keep the theater. In fact, under this plan, the renovation will be second rate and the original theater will pretty much be used as a facade, it will be the only entrance to the multiplex and people will walk throught it to get to every screen but one. The addition is UGLY, generic, and overwhelms the theater. I invite you to take a look at the designs. Unfortunately, the Planning Board gave into political pressure and approved the current design. I will take a look and the Somerville Theatre. Thanks for the input!!!

Broan on June 30, 2005 at 4:10 pm

I don’t understand how the layout works. How are they planning on using the original auditorium? How do you put stadium seating in an old auditorium while keeping a closed balcony and using the main floor as a lobby? It doesn’t seem to make sense.

e4kbb on June 30, 2005 at 7:03 pm

Please review the plan for restoration of the Alameda Theater at the Alameda Planning Board Web site agenda of June 27 at View link — go to item 8A, and click on “view item.” That will give you a PDF file of 60 pages concerning the cineplex and restoration. Starting on page 25 you can see what is included in the restoration, which is substantial. There are a few things which will not be restored at this time, but through doing the seismic retrofit they will be conserved for later possible restoration. You can read how the stadium seating will be accommodated— the false floor that was put in for the roller rink will be removed and a structure will be put on top of the original floor to allow for stadium seating. The original seats to the theater were destroyed in a fire several years ago, so new seating would have to be added anyway. If the stadium seating thing turns out to be a short term fad, the structure can be removed. The lobby is in front of the auditorium. Where the holes will be made to connect to the cineplex is now on the exterior a blank wall as there used to be a building next to it, long ago torn down. I don’t want to go through all the details here— if you are interested, read the document.
The “stop the megaplex” people are now trying to get this project to move back to a three theater, inside the old theater project. Allan Michaan, who has restored several theaters including the Grand Lake in Oakland, is a resident of Alameda and tried to get a project going several years ago that would have only three or four theaters, but the whole thing broke down over lack of financing and insufficient parking. With all his experience and previous track record, it was not viable as a small project, so with all due respect to Mr. Haskell for opening the small Central Cinema (which is terrific, I love it), I don’t really think that his idea is a possibility. The cineplex is needed for the financing of the whole project, theater restoration and building the new parking garage. It is very discouraging to have these people trying to stop the whole project, so that the theater will sit there and deteriorate another 25 years. I would like design refinement of the project to make it more attractive, but to say that the Planning Board gave in to political pressure is a bit far-fetched. Many of us community members have been working hard to get the theater reopened for many years so if that is political pressure— well I would have thought it was just called “responding to public concern.”

e4kbb on June 30, 2005 at 7:08 pm

Also, contrary to the comment made above, the artist rendering on the “stop the megaplex” site is maybe the most current drawing, but it is not what was approved by Planning Board on Tuesday. Among other things, the signage on the corner is gone, the tower on the corner is gone, there is brick on the parking garage, they have asked for different window treatments, and also for a breakup of the large cast concrete panels on the side of the parking garage, among other things.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on July 1, 2005 at 2:40 am

Will the main theatre be used for movies, live shows, or both?

RobertR on July 1, 2005 at 3:20 am

This whole proposal seems to be missing a lot of information. Why is the balcony not being used? I would think thats one of the unique features of a historical theatre and would increase seating if it was used for a live show.

e4kbb on July 1, 2005 at 5:38 am

The balcony was used to make the theater from one screen into three in the 1970’s. In the draft development agreement, it states that the developer has the option of restoring and reopening the balcony, but is not required to as part of this agreement. The reason is money. As far as live shows, the orchestra pit will be restored, but since we have a 2000 seat theater one block away with a huge stage area, it isn’t an urgent need to have another large venue in this location.

e4kbb on July 2, 2005 at 8:24 am

Just found out from the Alameda Journal yesterday that Central Cinema owner Mark Haskett is the one who is sponsoring the “stop the megaplex” Web page. This is a conflict of interest. The city is in fact investing several millions into the project. Mark Haskett apparently offered to invest $1.89 million to restore the Alameda Theater, of which only about 15% he would put up himself (the article didn’t say where the rest of his financing would come from). $1.89 million would just scratch the surface of restoring the theater and would not provide the parking needed.
Another misstatement in the comments by Jennifer V is that the new cineplex and parking garage would be the tallest building around. On the contrary, the theater complex would be built in compliance with National Trust for Historic Preservation guidelines for differentiating new construction from historic properties. One of the differentiations is that the new complex would be shorter in height than the existing historic property. There are also many very tall buildings in this area, including the Historic Alameda High School building, the gymnasium for the high school, City Hall, the Masonic Temple.
It is not fair for another theater owner to try to stop progress toward restoring the Alameda Theater just because the city was already a couple of years into negotiations with another developer when he arrived on the scene.

GaryParks on July 2, 2005 at 12:17 pm

Okay, I guess I have an undue advantage here because I’m a visual artist by training and profession, but a glance at the rendering of the new complex clearly reveals that it is NOT taller than the original Alameda Theatre facade. What people are seeing is the result of two-point perspective. The facade of the new complex is at the same level as the two side bays of the historic theatre facade (the sections which have the circular mandala-like elements on them). According to the illustration, the central third of Pflueger’s original facade, as well as the vertical sign, will be the tallest part of the whole completed complex.

gsmurph on July 3, 2005 at 9:23 am

As a response (and suplement) to Ron Newman’s remarks concerning the Somerville Theatre at the top of these comments, another example, albeit considerably smaler-scale, of how plexing and historical cinema can mix closer to home is Michaan’s Orinda Theatre, where two screens were added not by dividing the original auditorium, but by converting a couple of adjacent buildings into two newer cinemas.

salvageman on July 20, 2005 at 8:21 pm

Wow this is quite a lot to take in, the main problem is too many people giving their own ideas of what would be best. First when the theater was built nobody was to concerned regarding parking, now it’s a big deal. Most of the movie goers are going to be local, and the few who come from out of the area will park in the parking lot and on the street, get over it. The city is over reacting, this is sounding just like other cities that have let theaters meet the recking ball because of limited parking. This theater should be saved and further more the city under estimates the power of a single screen. Example the Paramount Oakland and the Stanford in Palo aAlto, both very successful. This buliding is a beautiful example of the art deco period and it would be doing an unjust to it, not to restore it to it’s former glory. If the city neglects there duty to this great lady, it’s more than likely it will fail in time. The city of Alameda has to realize people WANT to have an Historical relationship with a building to pass to future generations. If they choose megaplexing it will be just that a megaplex, nothing more. Come on Alameda do what’s right don’t cave in to political pressure, give us what we WANT. Being a member of THS i am always on the look out for any theater items for sale. If you let this go megaplexing I am interested in buying any of the light fixtures in the building, plus what ever is going to be disposed of. Please contact me, thank you. Salvageman

e4kbb on July 24, 2005 at 9:45 am

Salvageman, I think you misunderstand what is to be done with the Alameda Theater. The “megaplex” actually only 6 screens is in a new building next door to the historic theater. The historic theater will be partially restored, including restoration of lobby and main auditorium light fixtures, carpeting, wall treatments and alcoves, removal of false walls and floors, restoration of the ladies and mens restrooms with the exception of where original fixtures are cracked or unusable. Not restored at this time, but could be later are two murals which were painted over, and the balcony area which could be restored later. Also, the original facade was unpainted and has since been painted— it is currently undecided how to handle the facade. Some non-original awnings will be removed, and the Alameda Theater lighting signage will be restored, but not the chaser lights (not sure why on that one). Some holes in the ceiling left by previous occupants will not be repaired and the ceiling itself will not be restored at this time, only repaired to the extent necessary for safety. All needed seismic work will be done. Chandeliers that are left will be restored (some I understand went to the Paramount’s restoration. What will be jarring for historic theater buffs is the stadium seating which will be put in the historic auditorium. It must be a separate structure on top of the original floor per the agreement. I am not happy with this myself, but the original seats burned up in a warehouse fire many years ago, so seating would have to be brought in anyway. The so-called “megaplex” will be connected to the historic theater by hallways through two existing holes and one new hole in the side of the building. Patrons will enter through the historic lobby for all screens but the historic auditorium will have the most seating and largest screen. It’s really not that different from what was done with the Grand Lake in Oakland many years ago, or the Orinda, recently— the new theaters are off to the side, not in the original building. So Salvageman, keep your hands off our historic theater fixtures; we are using everything we have left, including the original curtain and parts of the original carpet.

salvageman on July 25, 2005 at 5:26 pm

Kbb, thanks for the update. But do you feel the six additional screens are necessary to make it a viable project? Glad to hear you are going to save what you can, was just putting it out there just in case items where being desposed of.

e4kbb on July 25, 2005 at 5:54 pm

And my comment to keep your hands off was tongue in cheek ;–) Seriously, yes, although the financing is complicated, the additional theaters are needed because it is the only way to have the developer as a partner with the city. Contrary to the assertions of the anti- cineplex people, many attempts were made to find someone to partner with the city in this project. The city has spent over 3 years working out the financial deal with this developer. If this deal fails, no one will even attempt to work out something with the city. The historic theater is very, very deteriorated after having had very little maintenance since 1979 when it closed for movies. Anyone restoring it will need LOTS of public help. I also don’t understand the anti-multiplex feeling as having the other theaters in an adjoining building is exactly the same as with the Orinda, or Grand Lake. And there is plenty of room to have more screens next door, unlike with the Orinda or Grand Lake, so why not? Unlike the anti-cineplex people, I think the new building will be complementary to the whole area— that corner needs more height than it has and the additional storefronts will be better for walking than a surface parking lot.

scorpioangel71 on July 26, 2005 at 6:02 am

Actually. kbb, there are and have been other offers on the table to run the the theater as a theater/arts center ( I have letters that were submitted to the city from a couple of years ago, they were also submitted to the Council at a previous point to prove PSBA represetative wrong), and at the present time, Mark Haskett of Central Cinema has submitted a proposal to partially fund restoring the theater and running a 3 screen theater. If the Mayor and the City Council’s main objective was/is to restore the theater, then why do they continue to refuse even acknowleging these other offers exist? Of course my preference would be to properly rehabilitate the theater only, but I am open to other ideas. However, the current proposal is just completely over the top. The design is absolutely dreadful, and the parking garage is a disaster. One speaker at a recent meeting was able to sketch a better design in 5 minutes than this developer was able to come up with in 5 years. And despite all the bluster and indignation of proponents, who claim opponents are coming in at the last minute etc., the “final” designs were not even submitted to the Council until spring, and the scale model was not even unveiled until May. Check it out on the Park Street Business Association website, they invite public input, but I could not find any pictures about this project. If proponents are so sure this is the best idea since sliced bread, how come it is not splashed all over the website? Why isn’t there one of those huge “coming soon” development bulletin boards at the proposed site? The more people find about the details of this project, the more questionable it becomes. Why can’t we start smaller and add on if need dictates? Do the theater first, try a smaller parking structure, and add more dispersed parking throughout town, instead of concentrating it? Is the $25 million development funds burning a hole in their pockets? Why not spend some of that money on other projects to improve our great city..and leave a litte slush fund in case, maybe, just maybe, one of the several other city projects (new library, Webster and Park Street re-design, Alameda Point, etc.) goes over budget. Seems like the more Alameda invests, the more profit we need to see. I cannot imagine Alameda ever seeing a return on a $25 million+ project. All this debate could be a moot point if the City’s eminent domain claim is dismissed. I feel that despite the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, they are going to have a tough fight in the courts, and with the citizens of Alameda. The PSBA should also be careful what they wish for..a concern I addressed at previous board meeting was my fear that if the project goes through, it will force up rent on businesses in the immediate area, possibly driving out local businesses in lieu of chain retailers who can afford the higher rent (Starbucks, Subway, etc.) Already, by beloved Skylight Cafe (which had the best filet mignon in town) has closed its doors and is being taken over by a new owner. :(

e4kbb on July 26, 2005 at 1:41 pm

Those who don’t live in Alameda can skip to paragraph (2).
1. Skylight Cafe— taste is subjective. The present ownership change is the second one I know of since the remodeling. When the Skylight opened after the restoration/rehabilitation it was quite good; in recent years the meals I’ve had there were up and down. I have no personal knowledge, but if I were to guess I would say the change is due to lack of business, not anything to do with the theater. I walk by there all the time and there are many empty tables; went there on a Saturday evening in June with some friends because it was on the way from where we had just been and we were one of two parties there.
2. Taste is subjective— before I get into financial stuff, I still don’t understand what Jennifer has against multiple screens. That is what people go to now. My husband and I have often thought that Park Street would look better if there were more taller buildings to go with the ones they already have. The multiplex building will improve the site— it is not out of scale, it is in scale. Look at the high school diagonally across the street, a very large building. Also, the drawing on your “stop the megaplex” site is outdated. It’s also misleading because it emphasizes the cineplex corner.
3. If you were a developer ready to sink $7.2 million into this project and the city negotiated with you for over 3 years to work out all the small financial details necessary, and then dropped you because they had a subsequent offer from Mark Haskett or a community theater group, do you think that you might be a little angry?
4. Speaking of other offers, the figure of $1.89 million from Mark Haskett was bandied about. That money would barely even cover the cost of the purchase from the present owner. Where will he get the $10 million + needed to restore the lobby, auditorium, and bathrooms that the city is doing with this project? And where would he get the balance $4-5 million to do the balcony? Let alone that 2 screens in the balcony did not work well when the theater.
5. The city is financing the construction partly through redevelopment bonds, meaning that they will be paid back with sales taxes. The more sales, the better for taxes, meaning more seats in the cineplex are better even if all other things were equal.
6. Cost of construction— affordable housing advocates are always telling me that we need to have new apartments built rather than duplexes because the less exterior walls and roofs per unit, the cheaper is construction. Does this idea somehow not apply to commercial properties? If one is going to build a new building anyway, it makes sense to build more screens and more seats in it.
7. The city won’t need eminent domain for this project.
8. PSBA has only 2 employees I believe… it would be nice if the city would put the elevations and drawing up on its Web site, but it would certainly be premature to put up an “under construction—coming soon” sign before the last vote and all property is acquired.

scorpioangel71 on July 27, 2005 at 8:13 am

in response to number 7, actually, the city is pursuing eminent domain. Please read the letter to the editor in yesterday’s ALameda Journal. Since the theater is for sale through Gallagher and Lindsey, and the City refuses to make an offer close to the appraisal value, they are trying to force the owner to sell by pursuing eminent domain. According to the letter (which is written by someone I know and trust), the tenants renting the storefronts included in the Alameda theater have been given eviction notices, apparently as part of the eminent domain process.

I am not against a multiplex, persay. I just think this design is too big, especially for the location. I am also uncomfortable with the amount of public money going to a private business. The picture on the website is one of 3 still being used by the developer and the City. The changes that were approved only relate to materials and minor modifications. It will still be massive. It will still be ugly. I guess we are just going to have to agree to disagree, kbb.

e4kbb on July 27, 2005 at 11:53 am

Eminent domain— I believe the donut shop owner got the eviction documents, but eminent domain procedings won’t be necessary. As you say, the building is for sale.

The city is not really spending a lot of money on a private business. The private business is assisting the city to spend its money to restore the theater and make a viable movie theater complex out of it. The restoration of the theater is what people wanted and the developer is investing some money and expertise to help that happen, all in exchange for an option to buy with lots of conditions at the end of 5 years of leaseback as the theater operator. The city does not want to be in the position of being a theater operator itself, as it was a rental housing landlord before the Linoaks Motel was torn down for the new library.

scorpioangel71 on July 27, 2005 at 12:12 pm

The building is for sale, however, the city’s offer is about ½ what the owner is asking. Since he will not sell, the city is attempting to force the sale to them through eminent domain. If they don’t attain the theater, the project is a no-go. (But they will build the parking garage anyway, since they have the rest of the property and parking is needed. I still think having smaller parking structures dispersed around Park Street would be more effective and visually appealing.) I don’t think the developer need to “assist” the city in spending money, they do that quite well all on their own :) Yes, the people wanted the theater restored, that is not what we are going to get. If the goal it to restore, then why is that part of the project falling short to accommodate other aspects of the project? I just feel like it (the restoration) is being dangled like a carrot in front of this project so people are more likely to accept it. Even with the option to buy, the theater will decrease in value, even if it is successful (more so if it is not), so I still do not believe the city will ever break even or show a gain equal to what they have invested in this project.

e4kbb on July 27, 2005 at 8:10 pm

So, the “stop the megaplex” idea, let me get this straight is to have the city spend the $15-$20 million to completely restore the theater to its original glory— let’s be conservative and say $15 million, and then let’s have two parking garages instead of one, but since the total amount of parking spaces will be the same, let’s say that it will cost the same as one big one, about $8-9 million. Oh yes, let’s pay the present owner his asking price of $3.? million. Oh and also, another developer is offering to put in $1.9 million. So let’s just say it’s around $25 million. And then this developer will operate it as a single or double screen, non-stadium seating theater for 5 years, and then of course he and his investors will buy the property for the $15 million the city put into it. I only know of one theater operating with one screen only in the Bay Area, the Chabot, and it is only 431 seats and a discount house. There are only 3 I can think of with 2 screens; 2 of them are in Berkeley, a bigger place with a high student coefficient. With a single or double screen, there will not be as many tickets sold, not as many people going to the theater if they have already seen what’s showing or aren’t interested in it, probably no people coming here from surrounding cities so not an economic catalyst project. How do these numbers add up? Instead, there is a development agreement for a multiplex that gets ¾ of the historic theater restored and has the potential for more people going to the movies every week and shopping on Park Street,paying sales tax. It is more likely to be purchased by the operator in 5 years for at least the money the city put into the theater and cineplex. That is not counting the repayment of the $1.4 million loan and the rental payments, which the city should continue to receive if the property is not purchased at one of the option points. And that the developer has to put up around $7 million up front in private financing before they can even start building. I am not sure who would say that a one or two screen theater has a better chance of succeeding than a multiplex theater— no one seems to be building any brand new ones.

e4kbb on August 14, 2005 at 6:13 pm

You can now get an overview of the whole project at
Please look at it. Many of us in Alameda feel this is the only way to save the historic theater.

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