Loft talks to last six months

Hoping a new cinema will form a cornerstone of Glendale’s arts and entertainment district, the City Council on Tuesday voted 4-1 to enter into six months of exclusive negotiations with developers seeking to a build a five-screen theater and 42 artist live-work lofts at Maryland and Wilson avenues.

Developer Marc Nathanson of Mapleton Investments and Greg Laemmle, president of the Southern California art-house chain Laemmle Theatres, want to build the structure on city-owned land that is now home to the Panda Inn restaurant and a 46-space surface parking lot.

The developers are seeking several concessions from the city, including acquisition of the land at no cost, a waiver of what might otherwise be $1.5 million in development and related fees and the right to lease parking for loft tenants at nearby garages.

Council members praised the proposal and said they hope to see it built.

Councilman John Drayman said he first began discussing the possibility with Laemmle Theatres President Greg Laemmle in 2007. He said the project would give a lift to the struggling Glendale Marketplace across Wilson Avenue, “a retail part of our city that has never quite worked.”

Laemmle Theaters screen award-winning international films and avant-garde movies that do not go into wide United States distribution. Council members Frank Quintero and Laura Friedman said the theaters could attract movie-goers from Eagle Rock, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, Burbank and other nearby communities.

“What could be better for Glendale?” Friedman said. “What could be better for our arts and entertainment district?”

Plans for an arts and entertainment district include bringing the Museum of Neon Art from downtown Los Angeles to Brand Boulevard, creating an open-air passageway to the Glendale Central Library plaza and encouraging nightlife along Brand Boulevard and Maryland Avenue between Colorado Street and Wilson Avenue.

Councilman Dave Weaver was the lone vote of dissent, saying the parking proposal is inadequate and that the city has failed to generate a master plan for that portion of downtown.

“I think it is a good thing to put here, but I will vote against this because we have not done our homework to get to this point,” he said.

Glendale Arts Chief Executive Barry McComb, whose organization operates the Alex Theatre, told the council he has had preliminary discussions with the developers on co-hosting film festivals at the Alex and the new theater.

Rodney Kahn, a consultant for the developers, said his team also has been in discussions with the Panda Inn owners, who want the restaurant to occupy ground-floor space in the new building. Mapleton’s proposal calls for the city to pay for the Panda Inn’s temporary relocation costs.

Philip Lanzafame, the city’s chief assistant director of community development, said the exclusive six-month negotiating window gives the city and developer time to work out solutions on costs, parking and the Panda Inn. An environmental review would be required, he said, but not until a final agreement is returned to the council for consideration.

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