Residents rally against a proposed movie "megaplex" planned for--say it isn't so!--a shopping mall.
Thursday, September 7, 2000
In a city where citizens regularly take up arms against retail centers in touristy Cannery Row and fight hotels downtown, it doesn''t come as any great shock that a collection of protesters is now out to kill a project that, in any other town in America, would seem like a natural fit.
New Century Theaters'' proposal for a 16-screen, 59,000-square-foot theater "megaplex" to be built in the Del Monte Shopping Center could finally bring Monterey Peninsula moviegoers comfortable seats and a broad choice of films. It would also serve as the long-sought third anchor, after Macy''s and Mervyn''s, for a shopping mall in need of foot traffic.
"Sand City has obviously had an impact to sales of Del Monte Center," says Jeff Miyaoka, general manager for the shopping mall. "This project is really going to help us keep the economic vitality of the Del Monte Center healthy."
However, while the Del Monte Center Master Plan has allowed for a third large retail anchor to the mall since 1982, a group of residents say the theater as currently proposed will create too much noise and traffic, too few parking spaces, and put other Peninsula theaters out of business. To Montereyans Against the Megaplex (MAM), organized by former county Supervisor Sam Karas, that is an unacceptable state of affairs.
"We don''t have a problem with adding a third anchor to Del Monte Center. The problem is this anchor," says Rick Heuer, MAM co-chair. "It''s not what was ever envisioned."
Karas and Heuer, who both live near the mall, say the outcry against the theater has been overwhelming. So far, Heuer says, MAM has 300 individual donors contributing to the group''s coffers to fight the theater. It so happens that one of those contributors is Resort Theaters, owner of the existing six-screen Galaxy 6 movie theater at Del Monte, which would compete head-to-head with the new cineplex. Karas says he has met with the president of Resort Theaters, but insists the idea to start MAM was all his own.
Regardless of who started the effort against the proposed theater, MAM has identified a number of legitimate problems with the project''s environmental study. In July, MAM submitted seven pages of comments on the project''s Environmental Impact Report to the city and is now running an advertising campaign against the theater.
The Del Monte Shopping Center Master Plan calls for a third large retail store, planned for the west end of the center near Galaxy 6, to complete the mall. But years of courting potential anchors have produced not a single cash register, cosmetic counter or dressing room. "The city has attempted to attract a third anchor retail store, such as Penny''s or Nordstrom, and those attempts have been unsuccessful," says Monterey Planning Director Bill Fell.
So when New Century Theaters came to the owners of Del Monte Center with a proposal for a 16-screen theater, the Center''s owners listened. The theater has the capacity to attract a staggering 900,000 moviegoers a year and will generate an estimated $18-25 million additional sales throughout the mall.
In order to revitalize the east end of the mall, the theater proposal moves the third anchor from the west side to the east edge across from Mervyn''s. The theater itself would knock out 238 parking spaces and pave over a sliver of wooded land facing Highway 1. As part of the project, the existing parking deck adjacent to Mervyn''s would be extended out to the edge of the center''s property line.
But even with the parking deck expansion, the project only nets 15 new parking spaces for a theater that can seat 2,755 moviegoers at once. That concerns neighbors who say shoppers park in their neighborhoods when mall parking is maxed.
The project''s EIR suggests that parking problems can be eased by offering valet parking and incentives to mall employees to park off-site at Monterey Peninsula College and catch a shuttle. Opponents aren''t buying it. Even with those two programs, which are already used during holiday season, they foresee cars endlessly circling, especially at holiday time, when shopping and moviegoing are at full throttle.
"During holiday season, there isn''t [empty parking]," Heuer says. "And holiday season also happens to be the second busiest moviegoing season. It''s a recipe for disaster."
Detractors also complain that the traffic study done for the EIR is insufficient because it fails to address holiday traffic, when jams on the roads surrounding the mall are at their worst.
However, Miyaoka says the center is listening to project opponents and that their issues can all be hammered out during the approval process. "We certainly hope we can take the comments and come up with a project that people are comfortable with," he says.
And then there''s the fear that the 16-screen megaplex will wipe out the other theaters in town, which will have a tough time competing with the array of choices New Century will be able to offer. Then again, considering the shabby shape of some local theaters, New Century Theaters may just be giving the people what they want.
"Wouldn''t it be nice to have a state of the art theater that''s clean and nice? Yeah," Heuer admits. But when the rest of the movie houses go out of business, "What are you going to do with all those theaters?"
Comment period for the Del Monte Center Cinema ends Sept. 11. To obtain an EIR or submit comments, contact the Monterey Planning Department at 646-3885.