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Saturday, Mar 2, 2024

Reseda Theater Construction Stalled in Downturn

Despite high hopes and good intentions, the old Reseda Theater still stands as a dilapidated and deteriorating property in the heart of the Reseda Business District; four years after plans were set in motion to rehabilitate it. Financial troubles triggered by the economic downturn have stalled the transformation of the long abandoned eyesore on Sherman Way into a multifunctional entertainment venue- a transformation that many are hoping will help trigger the area’s economic revival. “A number of developments have fallen victim to the economy,” said Jay Virata, Regional Administrator for the West Valley Region of the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles (CRA), which owns the property. According to Virata, the developer that the CRA partnered with in 2005 has been unable to obtain private financing for the project at a time when capital markets are virtually frozen, so plans for the renovation have fallen behind schedule. Construction of the theater was scheduled to begin July 5, 2008. The developer, CIM Group, owner and operator of venues such as the Kodak Theater and the Hollywood and Highland Shopping Center, has said it wants to continue to partner with the CRA in this project nonetheless, and the parties are finalizing the details of a new agreement to try to move forward with construction in the tough economic climate, according to Virata. “CIM has committed to come up with $3.25 million of its own cash, and we are working out the deal terms with them, putting together a schedule of performance,” he said. The agreement would set a new timeline for the project and would require CIM to show evidence of the funds to proceed. The CRA has $4.35 million readily available for the project and will move forward with the renovation pending that CIM come up with the funds. “This should have been built already, but we understand the economy is in the tank. The construction business is in the tank, and CIM is having financial difficulties just like every other developer.” said Councilmember Dennis Zine, whose district includes Reseda. Zine met with the CRA/LA and CIM Group on June 5, to discuss plans to expedite the project. “We admit this is taking way to long. I’m not happy, I’m frustrated, and I’m not a patient man. We want to see progress and we want to see progress now,” he said. Great expectations The renovation of the Reseda Theater is expected to have a catalytic effect on the neighborhood; attracting new business to the area, triggering what many hope will be an economic revival similar to what transpired in Canoga Park after the Madrid Theater was refurbished over a decade ago. Since the theater was converted into a venue of live performances through community redevelopment assistance, Canoga Park has steadily seen an increase in thrift stores, sit down restaurants, and small cafes in addition to the antique shops that already lined Sherman Way, where the theater is located. The thoroughfare has also become increasingly pedestrian-oriented. Many Reseda residents are confident the renovation of the Reseda Theater will have a similar effect. “This is going to be the highlight of the community, it’s going to bring businesses back to Reseda,” said Ann Kinzle, executive director of the Reseda Chamber of Commerce. “Obviously we’re disappointed with the delay but we realize in this economy we have no choice. We’ve waited this long, we’re going to continue to be patient.” The Reseda Theater, built in 1948, was a popular movie house in the ’50s and ’60s, where residents lined up to watch blockbusters like Bambi and Mr. Magoo for 49 cents a ticket. It had been vacant and deteriorating for more than 20 years before it was purchased by the CRA in 2004 for $1.3 million. The CRA also acquired the property on Canby Avenue directly behind the theater, to be converted into a parking lot. The $8.7 million renovation project involves gutting the theater and reconfiguring the interior into an 11,000 square foot state of the art live performance special event and night club venue. Rehabilitation will require complete replacement and or upgrade of all structural elements, expansion of the existing mezzanine, addition of a two-stop elevator, installation of a kitchen and new restrooms, replacement of all fire life safety and fire sprinkler systems and addition of interior and fire egress stairs serving the mezzanine. Upon completion, the Theater would be managed and operated by CIM Group who would make it available to a host of community events. “The theater is going to be put to use for live performances as well as ‘quincea & #324;eras’, bar mitzvahs, things of that nature,” said Brian Pendleton , CRA project manager for the West Valley Region. “This could be like the Laugh Factory, not a huge place, but a neighborhood venue that could be very successful,” said Councilmember Zine, adding that the track record of CIM Group in successfully developing and owning similar projects is very good. “What this is going to bring the community is marvelous; we really want to see this get going. There have just been too many starts and stops,” said Peter Hankwitz, Chair of the Reseda Neighborhood Council. “Now it just looks like a ramshackle, rundown haunted house.” Virata said there is no projected date yet for completion of the project. According to Zine, CIM has already invested over half a million dollars in demolition costs to the project and some work has already been done to the inside of the theater. “I’m putting fire under their feet to get things done,” Zine said. “We’re being vigilant and diligent and we will be holding monthly meetings with the CRA. I have four years left and I’m not going to leave and say we couldn’t get this done, that’s not my style.” Shaul Kuba, principal and founder of CIM group, could not be reached for comment.

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