New Site Sought for Cinema Complex in Renovation Project

Times Staff Writer

City officials, reacting to a wave of protests against a proposed 10-screen cinema on a church-owned lot, said they will help a developer find a new site for the theater complex--a key element in a downtown redevelopment project.

The property, at the southwest corner of Wilson Avenue and Louise Street, belongs to the First Baptist Church of Glendale. The church wants to build a senior-citizen housing project on the site.

However, officials have not indicated that they would approve the church's plans for new housing in the midst of downtown Glendale's first major renovation project.

Glendale City Council members said this week that they have no intention of condemning a parking lot on the southwest corner of Wilson Avenue and Louise Street owned by the First Baptist Church of Glendale in order to allow developers to build the theaters.

Because the property is in the city's Downtown Redevelopment Project, the city has power of eminent domain. But, instead of condemning the property, the city is considering either swapping land with the church or requiring that the cinema be put elsewhere, council members said.

1920s Appearance

The two-block project calls for restoration of buildings to their original 1920s appearance, in contrast to previous redevelopment projects in which blocks of stores and homes have been torn down to make way for high-rises and the Galleria shopping mall.

Developer William Holderness and others have said that the church property is ideal for construction of a multiplex as the cornerstone of the renovation. The project would occupy a two-block area bounded by Brand Boulevard, Broadway, Wilson Avenue and Louise Street.

But for years the church has planned to build high-rise senior-citizen housing there, said its pastor, the Rev. J. Whitcomb Brougher Jr.

After learning about the cinema proposal last month, Brougher complained that "dirty films" would be shown and that movie theaters would draw unsavory clientele into the neighborhood near his church and the YMCA.

But Mayor Ginger Bremberg told about 50 church supporters Tuesday at the council meeting that "eminent domain or condemnation has never, under any circumstance, been considered by me or any other council member."

Letters of Protest

Bremberg's comment came in the wake of a barrage of letters to council members protesting the cinema proposal.

Councilman John F. Day said he does not recall the city "ever receiving as much mail as we have gotten in this issue. A whole bunch of people around town have let us know that it is not desirable for the city to take church property."

Councilman Larry Zarian said he was shocked by the public outcry. "Until now, we did not know that Rev. Brougher was so adamantly opposed" to the cinema, he said. "We are not going to condemn the property," Zarian added. "There are other alternatives."

City officials and developers said they are continuing negotiations with church officials about the possibility of trading city-owned property north of the church for a retirement development or relocating the proposed cinema elsewhere in the block.

"We will not do anything that is not in the best interest of the church," said Susan Shick, deputy redevelopment director.

Other possible sites for the cinema project include another parking lot farther south on Louise Street and property occupied by older buildings near the corner of Maryland Avenue and Broadway.

The city plans to build a 742-space multilevel parking garage on Maryland Avenue to serve the project area.

Holderness, a veteran renovation expert whose firm, Brand Development, is charged with developing the block containing the church property, told council members last month that a multiplex cinema on the church property is critical to the success of the project. Holderness threatened to withdraw from the development if the city rejects his proposal.

However, in an interview Wednesday, Holderness said he now plans to proceed with the project, even if he has to build the theater somewhere else in the block. "We'll do it," he said. "If the church refuses to cooperate with us, then we'll work around them. We are trying every way possible to find some reasonable solutions to everybody's problems."

A hearing on the issue scheduled Tuesday was postponed until June 30 because Councilman Carl Raggio, who is hospitalized with a broken leg, was absent.

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