Curtain call for K Street
Sacramento’s cinema future in limbo as downtown makeover approved
In five years, will you be able to catch a movie in downtown Sacramento?
Probably, but the fate of three movie theaters—Century’s Downtown Plaza, the Esquire IMAX and the Crest Theatre—is uncertain as the city prepares to remodel the K Street Mall.
For starters, St. Helena-based developer Jim Brennan wants to change the Crest.
“Recently, I had the privilege of acquiring the Crest Theatre,” Brennan told City Council last month. “We’re going to reposition it into a performing-arts center.”
“That’s very exciting,” Mayor Heather Fargo interjected.
But not everyone’s thrilled by his plans.
“[Brennan’s] being awfully optimistic about what will fly in the arts community in Sac,” said local artist and writer Liv Moe. She’s concerned Brennan’s idea will be “another overpriced venue that the average person in town can’t afford to attend.”
“Certainly it would be in our best interest to keep the Crest Theatre in its historic way and historic fabric,” said the city’s downtown development manager Leslie Fritzsche of the theater, which has shown movies downtown since 1949. Brennan, a Julliard school graduate who’s worked on performing-arts projects in San Francisco and San Diego, envisions the Crest as “a small Lincoln Center-type thing right in the middle of our city.” He has earmarked $75 million for the renovation of his seven K Street properties, including the Crest.
“We’re very supportive of his investments on the block,” Fritzsche said of Brennan, “and look forward to the work he is doing.”
And while indie-film enthusiasts are worried, the Crest isn’t the only downtown theater affected by the K Street Streetscape makeover.
Cinemark’s six-screen Century theater, located in Westfield’s Downtown Plaza, is set to expand to a 16-screen megaplex, although there’s currently “no information available” as to the timetable of its remodel, according to Westfield’s Keith Kaplan.
Westfield is upset over the city’s $4 million K Street Streetscape project, which will relocate the 700 block light-rail station to 7th Street, potentially obstructing the flow of foot traffic into Downtown Plaza. The City Council unanimously approved the project.
“Construction on the 700 block and the station would most likely begin in the spring of ’08,” explained Melissa Anguiano, economic development project manager with the city. Phase one of the Streetscape project not only will include moving the light-rail station and making K Street improvements, but also a redesign of the St. Rose of Lima park, which will begin in early 2009.
In spite of the redevelopment plans on K Street, “There’s no change to the plans” to expand Cinemark’s theater at its current mall location, according to Kaplan.
Meanwhile, the Esquire IMAX at the other end of the K Street Mall continues to operate in the shadows of Cinemark in spite of improved attendance.
“We were the No. 4 theater opening weekend worldwide in box-office gross for 300,” noted Doug Link, Esquire IMAX general manager. As SN&R reported last year (see “No Competition”, SN&R News, April 13, 2006), Cinemark has proprietary rights to all first-run Hollywood films that screen on K Street. But in the case of 300, “the Downtown Plaza simply didn’t take it,” according to Link.
Esquire IMAX snatched up the film and it set record attendance numbers, bringing thousands of cinema-goers to K Street.
Last year, the city voted to assist the underperforming Esquire IMAX with a five-year, $375,000 subsidy to help pay their lease. “If we could get the Hollywood releases,” argued Link, “we’d be filling the house.” Cinemark has no plans to allow the Esquire IMAX to regularly exhibit first-run Hollywood films. Multiple calls to Cinemark headquarters went unreturned.