CinéArts, paradise for local cinephiles, permanent shutters | New

CinéArts in Palo Alto Square, a movie theater that has been a popular destination for local moviegoers for decades, will not reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic, the theater’s parent company confirmed to this post.

Like other entertainment venues across California, the cinema has been closed since March 2020, when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent public health orders forced it to close. Unlike most others, the Palo Alto Square institution will not participate in the reopening of California.

“In light of the impact of COVID-19, Cinemark can confirm that it has made the business decision to permanently close its CinéArts at the Palo Alto Square theater,” a spokesperson for Cinemark told this publication in a statement. .

While the pandemic may have contributed to the definitive closure of CinéArts, its future has been uncertain for years. Texas-based theater company Cinemark, which bought the Palo Alto theater from Landmark in 2001, had considered closing it in the summer of 2016, a move that sparked concern among residents of the region and elected leaders of Palo Alto.

At the time, Cinemark attributed its decision to shut down the cinema to the changing film market, the state of the cinema, and the large amount of money the company would need to invest to put it in. up to date. The closure was narrowly avoided after Cinemark signed an agreement with Hudson Pacific Properties, the owner of Palo Alto Square, which extended the theater’s operations until September 2018. As part of the agreement, Hudson Pacific has had to make improvements to buildings and landscaping.

Even then, however, city leaders recognized that the deal only represented a temporary reprieve. Today the website lists CinéArts at Palo Alto Square as ‘permanently closed’ and states, “We look forward to welcoming you to another Cinemark location near you. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Cinemark has many other theaters in the area, including Century Cinema 16 in Mountain View and Redwood Downtown 20 and XD in Redwood City. The Palo Alto Square Theater is much smaller and, in many ways, more quaint than either of these venues. Unlike its neighbors, CinéArts in Palo Alto Square has largely focused on foreign, independent and arthouse films.

But while its small size and focus on independent films may have made it harder for the Palo Alto Theater to be as lucrative as the big theaters with blockbusters, these characteristics also endeared CineArts to local moviegoers. In 2016, more than 2,600 residents signed a petition days after learning of Cinemark’s plan to close, urging the city and Hudson Pacific to keep CinéArts as a tenant in Palo Alto Square. The theater, according to the petition, “provides an essential part of cultural life and entertainment in Palo Alto”.

“As one of the two first-run cinemas in the city, this theater provides access to valuable opportunities that are not otherwise possible in our community, including several prestigious film festivals, such as the Film Festival affiliated with the United Nations and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and the popular simulcasts of the New York Metropolitan Opera (The MET), “the petition said.

This time, the public gave little warning of the closing of the theater. Cinemark made no public statements about the closure, and the city council never publicly mentioned the closure, unlike in 2016 and 1997, when council members fought to keep the theater open.

This time around, the timing of the shutdown made public engagement nearly impossible. Cinemark’s decision was made in May – at a time when all other sites were also closed and the city was in social distancing mode. This is in stark contrast to 2016, when the theater abruptly stopped broadcasting programs for future screenings, prompting requests from residents and the media.

Mayor Tom DuBois said council learned of the closure last week when it received a letter from Hudson Pacific advising city staff of Cinemark’s decision to close the theater. The movie chain officially informed Hudson Pacific in May of the movie theater shutdown.

“Century does not take this decision lightly, but given the unprecedented and tragic circumstances, Century made this difficult decision,” wrote Paul Ledbetter, real estate advisor to Century Theaters, one of the brands owned by Cinemark. “As you know, Century and the theater exhibition industry as a whole have faced a particularly acute challenge stemming from the COVID-19 epidemic due to the various local, state and federal mandates specifically requiring the shutdown of films. While such mandates were broad and cautious given the situation, it unfortunately resulted in economic hardship and unintended consequences for Century which ultimately led to this decision. “

While the decision appeared to have been finalized in May, Hudson Pacific did not notify the city of the theater’s closure until June 22, the last day of council sitting before its summer recess. By this time, Cinemark had already removed its equipment from the building and returned the keys to Hudson Pacific.

Shawn McGarry, Hudson Pacific’s senior vice president for Northern California, noted in his email to the city that Hudson Pacific was offering theater rents “well below the market” to help it stay open.

“We had ongoing discussions with CinéArts to work with them throughout the pandemic, however, they ultimately made the decision to shut this place down permanently,” McGarry wrote.

It is not yet known whether or not another theater company will set up in the space left by CinéArts. The city approved the six-building development known as Palo Alto Square in 1969 through “planned community” zoning, which allows exemptions from development standards such as height and density limits in exchange for public benefits. The zoning ordinance has since been revised twice, the most recent in 2000.

Although the ordinance lists theaters as a permitted use on campus – along with banks, insurance companies, business offices, restaurants, and a 300-room hotel – it does not explicitly require a theater. However, city leaders and planning staff have argued in recent years that because the map associated with the 1969 CP ordinance showed a theater, council approval of the map effectively makes the theater a use required.

City staff did not immediately respond to questions about the site’s zoning and whether or not a theater was necessary. DuBois said he hopes the city and Hudson Pacific can work together to find another theater chain that can fill that space. He cited as an example Alamo Drafthouse, a small theater in the Mission District of San Francisco, famous for serving food and beer to its moviegoers.

“There are a number of specialty chains in a smaller footprint,” said DuBois. “They’re not necessarily looking for 20 screens, but maybe food, drink, and movies.”

DuBois said the town had received correspondence over the past week from residents who had just learned of the theater’s closure.

“It met a unique need for independent films,” he said. “I think a lot of people really liked it,” DuBois said.

Hudson Pacific Properties, which purchased Palo Alto Square in 3000 El Camino Real EQ Office in 2014, has so far made no decision on what will happen to the theater, according to the company.

“We are just starting internal discussions on the space and unfortunately have no further details to share at this time,” Meryl Vissel, spokesperson for Hudson Pacific said Monday.

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