Artful plans in the works

A downtown parking lot and Panda Inn restaurant may be transformed into a center with 40 live-work lofts and a five-screen theater featuring international and independent films.

Developer Marc Nathanson of Mapleton Investments and Greg Laemmle of Laemmle Theatres want to redevelop the city-owned properties on the 100 block of East Wilson Avenue near Brand Boulevard, at the northern end of what city officials hope to make into an arts-and-entertainment district.

Nathanson said he expects to submit plans to the city in the next month or so and that he could complete the project within about 18 months of getting the necessary approvals.

"I think Glendale is ready to have a renaissance," he said. "We saw Pasadena change over the years and attract businesses and young people, and we think the same can happen in Glendale. "

Nathanson said that while considering development of a separate site he owns on Central Avenue, he learned that Glendale could do more to provide housing for animators and other artists with ties to nearby movie studios. He said he has talked to artists and graduates of nearby schools, such as the California Institute for the Arts, to get a feel for the features they would want in market-rate, live-work spaces.

"This proposal would add a new element to the city's housing stock," he said.

Greg Laemmle, president of Laemmle Theatres, said the project fits in with his company's goal of expanding into dense, transit-friendly urban centers in the region. He does not believe the theaters would compete with the 18-screen theater at the Americana at Brand.

"We offer something different," Laemmle said.

His clientele tends to be older than the average movie-goer, he added, and is more likely to go out for dinner before or afterward than to use a theater snack bar. At the same time, independent films do not draw the crowds that mainstream features do.

"We need a low enough rent that we can survive," said Laemmle, adding that the mixed-use project is attractive because of its rent.

City Councilman John Drayman said that the proposal must go through the public approval process, but that he is generally supportive.

"I hope it comes to fruition," he said. "The arts in general are a tremendous economic development tool, and that principle is something I've been trying to bring to Glendale in a practical way."

Nathanson said he would offer Panda Inn the opportunity to move into the new building.

"We'd love the restaurant to stay," he said.

David Landsberg, vice president of real estate for Panda Restaurant Group, said in an e-mail that "we would be honored to continue serving Glendale for many more years to come," and that the company looked forward to learning more about the development plans.

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