A decade after a new movie theater was proposed as the centerpiece of a downtown Oxnard revival, a 14-screen complex is finally moving forward as demolition began last week on an old bank building on the theater site.
“I’ve been to three different [theater] ribbon cuttings,” said Gloria Stuart, owner of BG’s Coffee Shop, across A Street from the planned theater. “But I think it’s really going to happen this time.”
Oxnard’s most recent effort to jump-start a downtown rebound by building a movie theater is in its 10th year, nearly a decade past a building boom that brought new multiplexes to every other major city in Ventura County.
City officials said this deal was going to stick.
“The project is underway,” said city Redevelopment Agency Manager Brian Pendleton. “And we’re already seeing real estate values begin to move upward with changes of ownership and new people coming in.”
Formal ground breaking is expected next month, after demolition crews clear the block where developers plan the $15-million Centennial Plaza theater-and-dining complex facing historic Plaza Park.
Meanwhile, city officials have already broken ground on a $9-million, 465-space parking garage on the next block.
If all goes well, the theater and garage could be open by the end of the year, officials said.
“We really want to have it open for the Christmas season,” developer David White said. “It’s going to totally redo the downtown, and make it a very friendly, vibrant and high-quality place to be.”
Six restaurants and shops are planned on either side of the theater’s entrance, the first phase of a broader program to revive a downtown that was once Ventura County’s busiest commercial strip.
The six storefronts are already taken. Tenants will be Cappricio’s Italian restaurant, the Plaza Cafe fish and steak house, a Thai-Peruvian dinner house, Starbucks coffee, Subway sandwiches and Coldstone Creamery.
They will pay $2 to $2.40 per square foot, more than double the usual rate in Oxnard’s struggling downtown and about the same as along Ventura’s revitalized Main Street.
A ripple effect is being felt even before construction begins, say commercial real estate brokers.
“We have 13 full-price offers on our building,” said Phillip Kyle, who is selling the historic Bank of A Levy Building, across A Street from the new theater, for Washington Mutual Bank. The original asking price of $1.3 million is going up, he said.
“I’ve had a lot of interest from L.A. investors,” Kyle said. “The educated buyers are definitely motivated by this downtown redevelopment. And once the project really gets underway, people will realize it’s not just talk anymore.”
Kyle said he expected a restaurant to move into the 77-year-old bank building’s first floor. The city hopes the new buyer will convert the second floor into lofts as part of a strategy to bring residents downtown.
Kyle negotiated Starbucks’ deal in the theater complex, and the coffee kingpin is confident it will be a good store, he said.
“We think there’s enough draw in a city of 200,000 people to fuel a Starbucks at that location,” he said. “It’ll be the only theater in town running first-run movies.”
Indeed, the closest competitors are Century 16 in Ventura and the 12-screen Regal complex in Camarillo.
Ojai investor David Feigin, who restores historic buildings, had the theater project in mind when he bought the 1950-vintage Woolworth’s Building adjacent to the theater site last year and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into its restoration.
Feigin said a variety of businesses have expressed interest in leasing space once the restoration is complete. He is asking $1.50 to $2 a square foot, pricey for Oxnard, though a newly opened Wells Fargo Mortgage outlet nearby is paying $1.25 a foot, brokers said.
“This area was once very alive; now it’s beginning to come alive again,” Feigin said. “People want to have more of a connection to their community, and that’s hard in a big strip center. We all like this small-town atmosphere.”
There are strong similarities, Feigin said, between downtown Oxnard and downtown Ventura, where a resurgent Main Street bustles with new restaurants and stores near the 5-year-old Century 10 theater.
“People enjoy spending time in Ventura now,” he said. “And I think people will enjoy spending time here. It’s really about appealing to people’s emotions and their spirit.”
Noel Bustos opened his popular Cappricio’s restaurant on Ventura’s Main Street four years ago, and now he is on the ground floor of Oxnard’s revitalization effort.
“Whenever you see a movie theater move in, you always see good business,” Bustos said.
“I think it’s going to put downtown Oxnard on the map. And, of course, I’m bringing the reputation of Cappricio’s with me too.”
Rob Devericks, leasing agent for the theater complex and the son of one of its developers, said the theater project was beginning to make adjacent properties more attractive. He just sold an aging 6,500-square-foot retail building across A Street from the project for close to its $785,000 asking price, he said.
“What you’re seeing here is what we saw in downtown Ventura: It wasn’t that long ago that people were afraid to walk in downtown Ventura,” Devericks said.
“The same thing is going to happen here,” he said. “The only question is: Will there be a domino effect in terms of other properties getting renovated too?”
The city is counting on that, redevelopment manager Pendleton said.
Since approval of the theater project 14 months ago, the City Council has hired a consultant to figure how to parlay the theater project into the three-by-five-block Oxnard Marketplace.
“We’re looking at housing, commercial and retail uses that would benefit from the energy the theater will bring to the downtown,” Pendleton said.
Even without a movie theater, downtown Oxnard has begun a recovery of sorts. Over the last decade, the city has added a stylish red-brick library and a matching train-and-bus station.
The Redevelopment Agency has spent $10 million to move about a dozen historic houses to Heritage Square and convert them into offices.
It has donated land to three condominium or apartment projects with a total of 218 units. It has also spent at least $2 million to spruce up streets, install new lighting and renovate Plaza Park, just across B Street from the theater site.
It is working on a project to light and landscape alleys and parking lots in preparation for the movie theater.
Slowly, private owners have also started to put money back into their properties. Vacant storefronts have reopened, often with shops oriented to the city’s largely Latino population. Several new apartment complexes have been built nearby.
And the Olson Co., a leading in-fill housing developer, is planning a condo project three blocks from the theater.
Developer White said tenant interest in the theater project has been so encouraging that he has decided to build at least part of his project’s original second phase along with the first.
“Based on the demand, we may end up building and leasing it all at the same time,” White said.