Moviegoers Have Parking, No Movies, Yet

It is a new beginning and an ending for two downtown construction projects.

About 9,600 yards of concrete, 1,400 gallons of paint and 10 black exterior lighting sconces later, Ventura has one virtually complete downtown parking garage.

And after a monthlong deluge, work soon will resume on the largely bare site of the proposed 10-screen movie theater and retail complex site at the corner of Chestnut and Main streets.

The $4.8-million parking garage on Santa Clara Street should be open by April 1 and the movie theater by Thanksgiving, weather permitting.

With its aqua blue accents and more than $1 million in landscaping and other Art Deco flourishes, the garage isn't the basic bare bones building the contractors who worked on it are used to erecting.

"It's one of the nicer ones we've done," said superintendent Kirk Hoffman of Orange-based Bomel Construction, which has poured concrete for such high-profile jobs as the Anaheim Pond and the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. "They've spent a lot of money to get the extra gingerbread."

Meanwhile, at the theater site a block away, the plastic has come off the ground and surveyors are out double-checking measurements. Work is expected to resume next week.

Because no piles are being used, city officials don't expect work on the theater to be as noisy as the parking structure's construction, which reverberated throughout downtown.

"It should be mellower," said project manager Bill Hatcher, who added that street parking in front of the site will remain open during the work in response to merchant requests.

Developer Vic Georgino aims to have the movie theaters--originally slated to be completed by Independence Day--open in time for the holiday blockbusters.

"With the addition of the parking structure and the theater coming on stream . . . I think it's a tremendous downtown with an absolutely fantastic future," he said.

Merchants also are looking forward to the end of construction--but for different reasons.

"From my office I can see both projects," said Frank Parong, owner of the 66 California restaurant and jazz nightclub next to the parking structure. "It's been a nightmare. I thank God I'm still here."

Parong estimates that he has lost $100,000 since work began in earnest last summer on the five-story parking garage with the pounding of 253 piles.

He hopes those customers will begin to return--especially since he has 496 free parking spaces next to his outdoor patio.

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