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Monday, May 29, 2023

Screen Glory?

The Exchange in Glendale, with its red-brick streets and luxurious Canary Island Date Palms, was one of the city’s first major retail and entertainment projects outside of its Galleria mall. The city kicked $9.6 million of redevelopment funds into the privately developed Maryland Avenue complex in the late 1980s as it sought to make itself known for more than its downtown high rises and huge mall. But the Exchange never really lived up to the lofty expectations – and it’s only gotten worse. Over the last several years, restaurants have closed and in 2011 the 10-screen Mann Theatres closed as well as that chain went bankrupt. Now, there is renewed hope – and it’s based on move tickets that cost $20. In October, Mgn Five Star Cinema LLC began remodeling the former Mann space and that of a closed nearby restaurant – 60,000 square feet in all – to make room for the newest entrant into the greater San Fernando Valley’s luxury theater market. Viewers will have a chance to watch the blockbusters of summer in posh reclining chairs and order food directly to their seats. Access to a full bar will also be available. “This will bring a lot of attention to the city,” said project architect Aram Alajajian, a principal of Alajajian Marcoosi Architects in Glendale. “It’s going to energize the commercial corridor.” Glendale is fully behind the project, with the City Council giving final entitlements to the theaters in May of last year. Hassan Haghani, director of community development, said when Five Star approached the city to request approval, it was an easy decision. The city viewed the theaters as a way to logically extend the growing shopping and entertainment district that has developed south of the Exchange, where the Glendale Marketplace and the Americana at Brand are. The Americana currently hosts an 18-screen Pacific Theatres and the Marketplace has a 4-screen Galaxy Theatres but neither offers the upscale experience Five Star is promising. The idea is that the luxury theaters will become a destination in themselves. “For us, it’s the right investment in the city,” he said. “We want to create a district in Glendale that could attract nighttime entertainment users from within the city and outside it.” Glendale is not breaking ground with the addition of a luxury theatre. Other theatres, such the Muvico Entertainment LLC theater in Thousand Oaks and the iPic Theatres in Old Town Pasadena, offer similar amenities for a similar price and have done well. The iPic theater offers patrons a full menu that includes everything from Skittles to Peppercorn Crusted Beef Satays and truffle fries, as well as access to a lounge for custom cocktails. Tickets for an iPic show are $27 and include a fully reclining seat with a blanket, pillow, popcorn and access to the beverage and dining service. Untested market But it remains to be seen whether Five Star cinema can attain similar success in Glendale, despite the hordes of shoppers who are attracted to the Galleria and American at Brand malls. Marty Shindler, chief executive of the Shindler Perspective Inc., a film industry consultancy in Encino, notes that all such theaters are swimming against a demographic tide. “There are some people with money in Glendale. They may have an opportunity to do okay,” he said. “But older crowds would be the ones to pay for this experience. The majority of moviegoers are in their teens and twenties.” Another potential question mark is the company’s familiarity with the American market. Five Star is a subsidiary of Mgn Films Inc., a film distribution company based in Glendale that runs 120 screens in Russia and England. The Exchange will be the company’s first domestic theater, said Greg Astorian, senior vice-president of commercial properties at RE/MAX Tri-City, who brokered the lease Mgn signed with the building’s owner. Haghani said the city is not concerned with the company’s newcomer status. “It’s a risk that they’re taking,” he said. “It meets our requirements and fits in perfectly.” Five Star is retaining the 10 screens but installing just 508 recliners in place of the 2,500 traditional seats Mann operated. The adjoining restaurant space will be converted into a lounge bar and eating area. Other renovations include a new glass atrium lobby, a steel and glass canopy over the courtyard and a fountain in the courtyard outside the theater. But that doesn’t change the Exchange itself. The theater site is flanked by a tuxedo shop and a vacancy formerly occupied by a Tony Roma’s restaurant. Across the street there is a home décor retailer side and clothing boutique. Judi Kendall, chief executive of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, said the theater is just a star for reviving the Exchange, but she agreed it needs more attractions. “There needs to be more businesses open at night,” she said.

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