The seven-screen Laemmle Theatre is set to open sometime in the first quarter of 2020, only about three months later than the city originally planned, officials said.
According to Economic Development Manager Jason Crawford, construction continues at the corner of Railroad and Lyons avenues in Old Town Newhall. Concrete for the floors has been poured in the last couple of weeks, Crawford said, and the sides of the building are expected to be in place by the end of the month.
The project continues despite the news from three months ago that the entire Laemmle chain might be up for sale. “There has been no confirmation or denial in our conversations with the Laemmle people,” Crawford said. “It’s full speed ahead.”
Mayor Marsha McLean said she spoke to City Manager Ken Striplin, who told her Laemmle is in “ongoing negotiations” with “an upscale theater chain.” Laemmle can’t sell the property without the city’s consent, McLean added.
On February 9, 2016, the city council approved $3,420,525 in financial assistance to help Laemmle bring a multi-screen theater to the area. Laemmle owner Greg Laemmle told the Gazette back then that the project would not move forward without it.
Many people praised the project, saying they looked forward to the high-quality art-house films Laemmle is known to screen, and it would increase the likelihood they would spend time dining in and visiting a revitalized Old Town Newhall.
But not everybody was on board. Then-councilmember TimBen Boydston thought the money could be better used elsewhere, and Josh Heath wrote in the Gazette, “How will a local Laemmle Theater end up differently than the many art-house cinemas across the country currently struggling to keep up attendance?”
One example came from Claremont, home to the Claremont 5 Laemmle, located near the Claremont Colleges. A recent article in the school paper, The Student Life, quoted Eddie Gonzalez, a 2004 graduate: “But between 2007 and now, streaming has obviously become a thing. It’s devices over cinema. Kids just don’t go.”
A big bone of contention was the millions the city gave Laemmle. But Crawford pointed out that Laemmle doesn’t pocket all that money. The city paid for the land, valued at $440,525, and $400,000 in development fees. It also reimbursed Laemmle $600,000 in site-preparation costs.
However, $1,980,000 will go directly into Laemmle’s coffers once the theater opens, but with that comes an operating covenant that guarantees that Laemmle will operate there for 15 years. Six screens are required to be opened for the first six years. In year seven, the chain could reduce to four screens and convert the rest to retail or office space.
Laemmle would have to repay the city a portion of that money for each year it doesn’t operate under the covenant’s terms. Closing in the first year would get the city back almost all of the $1.98 million; it becomes less with each passing year.
“It will continue to be an art-house theater,” McLean said. “We are looking forward to having an art-house theater. That’s what Laemmle promised, and that’s what we’re going to get.”