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Art house movie group interested in SCV

Laemmle in ongoing talks with city officials

Posted: February 28, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 28, 2013 2:00 a.m.

A Laemmle luxury movie theater, with reclining chairs, dinner options, wine and beer, opened in Lancaster in August 2011. The Lancaster theater, however, opened with the help of a redevelopment agency and San Fernando Valley-based developer.

Santa Clarita residents have been loosely campaigning for quite some time to have an independent art house movie theater open locally. According to one executive, there is still hope that a theater chain airing independent films may one day locate in Santa Clarita.

“We have been in discussions; the city has been reaching out to us,” said Greg Laemmle, president of Laemmle Theaters, LLC.

“The (state’s) decision to shut down the community redevelopment agencies has complicated things,” he said. “That was a prime mechanism for cities to help encourage desired commercial uses.”

Still, Laemmle Theaters is moving a different direction, Laemmle said. The art house theater chain recently had to leave its location at the Fallbrook Center shopping center in West Hills. In past years the theater group has also had to vacate its Sunset and Westwood locations, he said, because as the movie theaters became more popular landlords wanted a bigger share of the ticket sales. It became a victim of its own success, Laemmle said.

“We’re realizing that for us to enjoy the kind of long term stability that we need, it’s better to be in an ownership position,” he said. “We’ve done it in Pasadena, Claremont and North Hollywood. That’s what we’d like to see happen in Santa Clarita.”

The city has been in conversations with Laemmle for a long time, and has had a strong focus on attracting an independent movie theater to the Old Town Newhall area, said Jason Crawford, marketing and economic development manager.

“We’d love to see Laemmle here,” Crawford said.

And according to Crawford, so would a number of local residents.

“Recently there’s been a community movement – an email campaign from community residents that have been emailing directly to Laemmle; hundreds of emails,” he said. “It’s in parallel with our effort to get Laemmle here.”

For the privately-owned, family business, however, Laemmle needs help to bring a theater to town. The costs of buying land and building a six- to 12-plex movie theater is high. It also needs a good source of parking for movie goers, Laemmle said.

“All those things can be difficult or even impossible,” he said. “A community may be interested in having us come out, but need help coming out here.”

Laemmle has been in ongoing discussions with the city, Laemmle said. But everyone is in a quandary as how to proceed, he said.

“We’re familiar with the area and learning more about it,” he said. “We’re getting to know the officials and community activists. We’d like to think that it could come together fairly quickly, but the reality is it just takes time.”

The Laemmle group is looking to structure a deal where there’s an upside for all parties, Laemmle said. It can be a shared profit situation to get a return on investment, he said.

Right now, we’re looking at all different kinds of models - even crowdsourcing, he said.

“It’s not typically something we would have done, but if the movies we show can get funded that way-maybe we can get funded that way,” Laemmle said.


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