Green light given for lofts, cineplex near Alex Theatre

Council narrowly approves development that also will include living and retail space.

March 30, 2011|By Bill Kisliuk,

Glendale on Tuesday gave the green light to a cineplex and residential development near the Alex Theatre, despite strong concerns about parking from two City Council members.

The City Council approved an agreement to turn over city-owned land to create a five-screen Laemmle Theatre, 42 artist live-work lofts and as much as 10,000 square feet of retail space at Maryland and Wilson avenues, now the site of the Panda Inn restaurant and a city parking lot.

The proposal also calls for the city to provide about $1.5 million in support for the project in the form of demolition costs and waived fees.


Laemmle owns a string of art house theaters in Southern California, focusing on international and independent films. Its partner in the Glendale project is Marc Nathanson’s Mapleton RDS, a developer of dozens of residential and retail projects in the western United States.

The four-story building would have 600 theater seats, residences of between 600 and 1,500 square feet, is likely to include the Panda Inn, and would have energy-saving features qualifying it for green building status.

But it would not provide parking. Under the proposal, loft residents would use 70 dedicated spaces at the Glendale Exchange lot on Maryland Avenue.

Mayor Ara Najarian praised the developers, but said he was “deeply concerned” about the parking plan. He noted that under current city rules, a project of that size normally would require more than 200 spaces.

“We have criticized and vilified previous city councils” for being short-sighted on parking needs, Najarian said. “I don’t want to be that poster child in five years.”

He said it is unrealistic to expect residents and guests to use the Exchange garage, and that street parking in the neighborhood is already tight.

Councilman Dave Weaver shared those concerns.

But Councilwoman Laura Friedman and city officials offered assurances that nearby parking garages, including the Exchange structure and the Orange Street garage on the other side of Brand Boulevard, offer more than enough space.

“I have never once driven to any downtown Glendale parking lot and seen a sign that says ‘full’ — ever,” Friedman said.

Should downtown parking ever become a serious problem, the city can build structures on existing surface lots, she added.

The vote on the development agreement was 3 to 2, with Najarian and Weaver opposed.

Philip Lanzafame, the city’s chief assistant director for community development, said the building is a key piece of the puzzle for the creation of a downtown entertainment district that also will include the Museum of Neon Art.

Robert Laemmle explained that his operations are unlike most cinemas. He said his customers typically are highly educated and wealthier than most movie goers, and that the films Laemmle Theatres show appeal to adult audiences.

“We are the anti-megaplex,” he said.

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