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San Bernardino Cinema Deal Puts Excitement Back in Downtown

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The Regal multiplex movie theater gets City Council's approval

By Chris Levister –

After more than three years of fits and starts, modern movie going excitement is returning to downtown San Bernardino and with it, comes what city leaders hope is the re-birth of a once bustling downtown area, thriving commerce, a thrilling nightlife, and streets packed with vendors and vehicles.

In a 6-0 vote Monday the City Council approved a 34-year lease deal with Regal Entertainment Groups to breathe life back into the former CinemaStar theater at Fourth and E Streets.

The complex is the area's only multiplex movie theater. San Bernardino is hoping the redevelopment of the theater will be the blockbuster they've been looking for when it opens in the spring of 2012.

"This is great news," said Sixth Ward Councilman Rikke Van Johnson.

That's an understatement for this former "All America" city now one of America's poorest cities.

Behind a curtain of green tarp the sounds of jackhammers and tractors filled the air as construction crews renovate the two story theater shuttered since 2008 because of financial struggles. The concession stand, box office and decor have been gutted for a makeover.

The project re-energizes the city's ailing economy and puts the ambitious Downtown Core Vision/ Action Plan back at the forefront of San Bernardino's downtown redevelopment efforts.

Emil Marzullo, chief executive officer of the non-profit Economic Development Corporation (EDC) estimates the theater deal will bring $10 million in gross ticket sales in the first three years.

The $7.7 million overhaul calls for revamping 14 auditoriums and 7,200 square feet of restaurant and retail space.

EDC will put up about $4.7 million in initial capital. Regal will pay $3 million.

Over the next 10 years the project will generate $3.8 million in revenue.

"With Regal we don't have the same financial concerns." said Marzullo.

"They are the largest entertainment corporation in the United States. They bring with them a following so the restaurants that tend to follow them want to be here."

"It's in essence a strategy that we're using that if we can breed success at this location, success will expand block by block," Marzullo said.

The Regal name brings with it an air of excitement and and interest says Johnson.

"There's an old saying, 'You build it and they will come'. They in this case is interest already expressed by the wildly popular Five Guys Burgers and Fries chain and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.

Johnson says, upscale restaurants, retailers and movie lovers are sure to follow.

"We're gonna see people come back to downtown to relive their childhood memories of old fashioned movie going.

It's an experience, and not just in a 'shared experience' with the audience kind of way. Like a great song or a picture going to a movie can leave you with memories that take you back to a specific place or time.

"We snook our first kiss at the CinemaStar," recalls Merrill and Dottie James of San Bernardino. "The place was state of the art luxury. There was an air of romance and ole Hollywood," said Dottie.

"Over the years the theater fell into disarray and downtown got real scary and unsafe," they said. "Now that the grand dame is coming back, we can't wait to bring our kids."

Success will depend largely on residents like the James' who currently must drive out of town to watch first-run movies on the big screen.

"Sometime we have to go to the Ontario Mall. They have a great movie theater out there."

Three years ago fading revenues and poor management forced the theater to close. Maya Cinemas was expected to open at the old site of the CinemaStar on February 27, 2009, however, a series of contentious negotiations collapsed and plans for a downtown San Bernardino theater were temporarily scratched. The closure put a gaping hole in the downtown nightlife and sapped revenues from the adjoining California Theatre of Performing Arts.

The theatre presents Broadway tours from the national touring circuit, and has hosted the San Bernardino Symphony since 1929. The theatre has recently hosted the tapings of Showtime'.

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0 # Guest 2012-01-16 09:32
That is great to hear, BUT they need to make it alot safer than it is now and with safe parking, there is alot of homeless and crime down there
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