Los Altos Opinions Exchange

Gateway to Downtown

Issue: Downtown Parking
Date of Posting:12/4/00
Author: John Rees

In a recent summary in the Town Crier of the development options for the parcel of city property on First Street between Main Street and State Street, Mayor King Lear described a concept which includes, in addition to some street-level shops on First Street and some second and third-floor condominiums, a small multi-screen movie theater. Although, personally, I would be delighted to have such small theaters conveniently at hand in Los Altos, I am writing to question the wisdom of any plan that calls for movie theaters to be built in the near future, because I believe it would be a bad economic bet for the town.

Several articles have appeared recently about the dire state of the movie exhibition business. One worth quoting appeared in the December 2000 issue of D Magazine, a Dallas publication. It opened as follows:

Commercial banks and investment bankers are about to get into the movie business. Not because they want to rub shoulders with Tom Cruise. The banks' customers, the nations' movie theaters, are going bust. So far this year, no fewer than eight theater chains have declared bankruptcy and another handful see it as the only way out. General Cinema Cinema, Carmike, Edwards, and Dallas based Silver Cinemas have all filed for protection, while Loews Cinema and United Artists have announced that they need more time to meet current financial obligations. All have been undone by the same problem---overexpansion coupled with Hollywood's lack of summer blockbusters. End of quote.

Note that we have just seen United Artists abruptly close its multiplex, the only one in downtown San Jose. The article goes on to estimate that there are currently probably 10,000 more screens in the 48 states than are sustainable.

In the property at First and Main, such specialized spaces as small theaters interior to the building would most likely prove to be white elephants if their use as theaters proved economically infeasible, and there could be few more ugly gateways to downtown than a failed multiplex.

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