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Heady Plans for Fullerton Plaza Fall Into Place

Times Staff Writer

Plans for a downtown plaza in Fullerton, with a giant-screen theater, a museum with traveling exhibits, stores and outdoor entertainment, are taking shape.

A major component of the plaza, a 300-seat theater employing equipment from Canadian-based IMAX Systems Corp., began as a dream of Mayor A. B. (Buck) Catlin last August, after a suggestion from his brother.

Stanton Loomis Catlin, a professor of museum curatorship and director of galleries at Syracuse University, Syracuse, N. Y., told his brother that Fullerton is “ripe” for a special-effects theater to show IMAX-produced educational, scientific, documentary and action films.

“He pointed out that this is a cultural winner . . . that provides quality shows beyond the cinematography” of motion pictures, A. B. Catlin said. “Any city that has it will certainly be a hallmark community in any area.”

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IMAX theaters have slightly curved 70-by-110-foot screens that create a feeling of motion, said Peter Crane, a representative of IMAX Systems.

Plans for a downtown plaza area also include the museum and exhibit center, more than 35 art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and outdoor waterfalls.

The City Council recently moved to buy one of the major sites for the $8-million project and begin architectural and parking studies for the plaza. Construction is expected to begin early next year.

Ron Hagan, city director of community services, said the plaza is to be built around the existing Fullerton Museum at 301 N. Pomona Ave. The city has allocated $750,000 to restore the museum, including new plumbing, electrical and other interior work, he said.

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The remodeled museum will present scientific and natural history exhibits on national tours, Hagan said.

Traveling Exhibits

That means, he said, “Southern Californians will be able to view (all of) these exhibits in Fullerton, rather than (having to) travel to other places to see them.”

Hagan said city officials are negotiating contracts now with museums that have traveling exhibits, including the Smithsonian in Washington, the Fort Worth Science Museum, the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry and the Minneapolis Space Museum.

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The plaza project, bounded by Harbor Boulevard and Pomona, Wilshire and Whiting avenues, will be within walking distance of the Arboretum at Cal State Fullerton, Plummer Auditorium, Wilshire Theatre and the Muckenthaler Cultural Center. Hagan said he expects it will become the “major calling card” to the downtown area.

Business Stimulator

“We want to generate pedestrian traffic downtown to fill up the businesses already there. By creating the attraction, we will provide them with a market and let the natural economics of business take its course,” he said.

The centerpiece of the project, the five-story IMAX theater, will cost about $1.5 million. It is expected to attract about 600,000 people annually. At an average ticket cost of $3, Hagan said, the yearly revenue will be about $2 million.

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The equipment to operate the theater costs about $3.5 million, Hagan said. But the city staff will recommend that the city lease it for $750,000 up front and 7% of the annual gross.

Hagan and Catlin admitted, however, that a similar 460-seat IMAX theater at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles has not met with the success anticipated in Fullerton. The attendance at the Los Angeles theater last year was 193,200, with a gross revenue of about $455,151.

But Hagan said Fullerton’s theater will have larger seats and nearby attractions.

Complementary Attractions

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“Our approach,” Catlin said, “is that the theater and the museum should complement each other. When they come to the museum, they can go to the IMAX.”

The council recently approved $225,000 in redevelopment agency funds to begin negotiations for the plaza site, a one-acre parcel at 125 E. Wilshire Ave., Hagan said.

“This was the key property for the project because it was the only one with tenants in it, and the owner was ready to sell now,” Hagan said. The rest of the property is vacant or the owners “already have plans to relocate,” he said. “We had to make sure that we were going to get this piece (of land) before we could continue with the project.”

The estimated cost of all the property needed for the project is $600,000, Hagan said. Plans include razing the YWCA’s Youth Employment Service building on Whiting Avenue and relocating the service to a building behind the existing YWCA at 321 Pomona Ave., negotiating for property on Whiting Avenue where the First Christian Church now has a basketball court and acquiring two vacant lots next to the basketball court from the owner, Glendale Federal Savings.

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This month, city representatives will meet with the owners of businesses in the neighborhood to discuss how the project will affect their parking and visibility during construction. Hagan said the owners will be asked for suggestions on the architectural style of the plaza project.

Later in March, city agencies will hold public hearings on the project, he said.


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