City Contemplating Downtown Cineplex

Planners say it could give Novato the identity it lacks and spur new shops, restaurants and other entertainment in the area

File photo
File photo

Posted 10am T
uesday, Aug. 13
Updated 1:09pm

A San Francisco developer has approached Novato with an idea of building a downtown multiplex theater, a project that will draw up to 1,300 more people a day and could give the town an identity many say it now sorely lacks.

The proposed theater would be located at Redwood Boulevard and Grant Avenue and have six to eight screens and seat 1,400 people, creating an anchor to an eventual entertainment district that includes new restaurants, cafes and shops that draw visitors day and night.

“A downtown defines the community, what it is and what it wants to be,” said Chris Stewart, Novato’s economic development director. “We are always thinking about how to bring people downtown on a consistent basis…so this is a concept that the city wants to explore.”

To accommodate additional visitors, a 350-car parking garage would be built nearby. 

The project is still in a concept phase, brought to the city by The Prado Group. It has not gone to council for consideration, but many believe it's a good first step toward reviving downtown.

"It’s something we’ve heard from the merchants and it’s needed in our community...an anchor tenant that really draws people to the area," said Councilman Eric Lucan. 

An economic impact study of the project recently completed by the Marin Economic Forum found that a multiplex could generate an estimated $673,000 a year in local and state tax revenues and create 58 jobs. It would also create several dozen temporary jobs in associated trades like welding and plumbing.

Click here to read the economic impact report

Of course, the Novato Theater would be nearby, if and when enough funds to complete the restoration are raised. But, according to the study, the two projects can exist side by side as long as there is a “strategic arrangement” between them to offer different programming.

Novato Theater organizers have said they want to hold screenings of older films and host musical recitals and local theater. The multiplex theater, meanwhile, will show large-scale, worldwide-distributed motion pictures.

Opinions on the project abound.

On Novato Patch's Facebook page, readers chimed in on the potential development.

"Waste of money!" wrote Chris Motsinger. "I say restore the theatre downtown..... theres already a theatre out in vintage oaks."

"Whenever I go to movies at Rowland they are empty," said Novato resident Silvana Candia. "How would our small town support two multiplexes?"

CORRECTION: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated how many people are expected to attend the cineplex each day. The attendance is estimated between 1,100 and 1,300 people a day.

SOUND OFF: What do you think about a multiplex in downtown Novato? Would this attract new restaurants and retail and help give the town an identity?

Tina McMillan August 14, 2013 at 11:15 PM
If the theater builds a 350 car parking garage then it will benefit the downtown with access to parking for a start. Commercial developments are usually paid for by the investors. Movies are a great form of entertainment. There is no comparison to the tiny theater project that is already on Grant. I remember attending Rocky Horror Picture Show there in the eighties. If it ever does get off the ground it will be a more unique venue. The idea that someone would invest in Novato by creating parking and entertainment will bring more people to the restaurants that are already there. Grazie, Finnegans, Marvins, Muscio's, the new Thai restaurant going in where Anokha was, there is another Indian restaurant on that same stretch of Grant... We have tremendous potential we just need commercial businesses to locate here. I can't think of a better way to develop the Redwood Corridor than with businesses that generate property and sales tax revenue. C'mon guys, there is hope, don't toss the idea until you give it a chance. Novato has many retired people who do use theaters during the day and depending on the films shows, families and individuals who could use it nights and weekends. I would much rather keep business in Old Town, on upper Grant and on Redwood than add more to Vintage Oaks. They have anchor stores like Costco and Target. Downtown needs the draw.
Tina McMillan August 14, 2013 at 11:35 PM
Of course business can bring revenue to the city. That is the whole idea. The city depends on property and sales tax revenue to pay for services. Why wouldn't we want more businesses in Novato and particularly entertainment near restaurants on Grant? Petaluma's west side downtown is amazing. Even before the parking garage and the cinema it was a fun place to just walk around, eat and window shop. They still have a bookstore, Copperfield, and people actually frequent it. We would do well to consider the ways in which small shops and large buildings coexist in Petaluma. Whole Foods just looks tacky because they wouldn't build it without the parking garage underneath and the condos on top. It got bigger and bigger but Jeanne MacLeamy, our architect council member, didn't realize how big it would actually be until it was built. Hogwash. The developers can build a model so we can see how this project will fit in and if it is part of the new Corridor study it will have other shops and offices planned around it. Unless we become business friendly, and by business I mean for profit business that pays taxes, we will not survive.
2MudDucks August 15, 2013 at 11:37 AM
Not really sure about this project. Perhaps it would give the restaurants on the West side of Grant a boost & certainly get rid of the blighted empty Pini building. Statistics show that people will only walk 5 minutes from their car to surrounding businesses only if entertained with widows of shops, etc. Count the blocks to the hub of Oldtown….crossing Redwood is 1, to Machin-2, to Sherman 3, to Reichert 4. Redwood Blvd is a huge barrier/divider! People will NOT walk 3-4 blocks to the shops in Oldtown. Dream on City of Novato!! How will the City pay for this parking structure?? I have a sinking feeling that the City will assess the downtown businesses, which would add to their financial hardships. Also, it is my understanding that the Petaluma Theater District is NOT doing well at all! Many surrounding businesses have closed & those left are hurting. So, not so fast Novato.
Naj August 15, 2013 at 12:00 PM
2MudDucks - to add to your post, I read that the merchants aren't benefiting from the Tuesday Farmer's Market which is on the east side of Redwood, so how would a movie theater make it any better except to make it look more tacky. I think the town has plenty of theaters on the other side, why would we need more? Also, Smith Ranch is just a couple exits down the road.
Mark Cwirko August 15, 2013 at 12:14 PM
As you are thinking about new tax revenue and removal of blight, keep in mind that if Novato puts in a Theatre Complex in downtown that will likely be the end for the Rowland Theatres. Meaning the City will not be getting any tax revenue from the Rowland Theatres any longer and there will be another building over in that area that will be empty (with the Novato City Offices scheduled to move back downtown - this would mean that most of that street would be empty, outside of the hospital/medical offices/Staples/Moylans and a few Professional offices). So this choice should not be made in a vacuum - doing so affects more than just downtown. This worked in Petaluma, as there was new development being built already and there was no existing theatres.
Mark Cwirko August 15, 2013 at 12:19 PM
If we could find a new business to put in the Rowland Theatres location, then I'd be OK with moving this downtown. If not, then leave the existing theatres where they are and find something else to go downtown. Rowland theatres are easy to get to, and tend to be at peak on opposite hours of the business offices over there. There is overflow parking. And for adult patrons, Moylan's is across the street. (Let's not forget the impact of the Rowland Theatres closing on Moylan's. Brendan Moylan and his family business have been a strong part of the Novato Community, not just as an establishment but also supporting the many non-profit efforts in our town!)
Brian Woodson August 15, 2013 at 12:30 PM
I am an avid supporter of movie theaters. I go to them as often as I can regardless of the reviews on the movie. I like to judge them for myself. I even worked at the Rowland Theater for over 6 years. I just am worried that this new theater would take away the business that would go to the soon to be reopened Novato Theater. Instead of opening a new movie house on Grant, lets put the time, money and energy that would be spent on that towards reopening the Novato Theater. The Novato Theater can and should be the heart of downtown. It can and should be the shining star that attracts people downtown. People who shop or dine before or after their show. Embrace the Novato Theater people! It has the name of our town on it!
Roger August 15, 2013 at 01:12 PM
San Rafael has the same population as Novato, but yet has more theaters and more stores and more cafes. Novato citizens drive to San Rafael for that variety, and Novato thus has tax revenue leakage. Do you know gas stations like to be next to other gas stations because it is recognized as a gas destination? We want Novato to be an entertainment/social designation, yes? Or, let Grant continue to die.
2MudDucks August 15, 2013 at 01:37 PM
Roger...have you been to San Rafael lately? Boutique shops gone! Only a few restaurants & a theater...an yes, the homeless. They prefer to come to Novato for the shops!!
Roger August 15, 2013 at 01:53 PM
2Mud, BJs is booming and it is in San Rafael.
FINNEGAN'S MARIN August 15, 2013 at 04:11 PM
Just wanted to chime in on how busy downtown Novato has been of late, especially in the evenings. Grazie has been busy as has Batika and other restaurants in Old Town. All Season soccer, Powell's and Old Town Sports are all open late and Finnegan's has had families and others dining and others until well past 10pm. (A special "thank you" to the Novato Youth Soccer league who have been out in droves). End of summer? Maybe but Grant Ave. might not be as quiet as some think. Tonight at Finns? Brittany Bexton performing at 8:30pm. Former Novato resident (Finn's employee too) making a name for herself in Nashville, TN! Check her out here: http://www.brittanybexton.com/
Roger August 15, 2013 at 05:17 PM
Finnegan, you as a main merchant on Grant, I value your opinion a lot on this question of a theater and garage on the old Pini site. Are you for or against it? I want what will make Grant much more of a destination.
Alan Dunham August 15, 2013 at 06:13 PM
Downtown Parking. After Novato was incorporated, a Plan was prepared and adopted for the entire City. As a result, Grant Avenue ”Old Town” was determined to be the “Heart” of our growing City and many commercial sites around town were rezoned to medium density residential. Since then, the City has honored the Plan by consolidating its facilities on their properties and improving Redwood Boulevard and Grant Avenues. The Novato Theater is now being planned to reopen. One area that has not been resolved is the parking issue. Many Town and Cities have countered Large- Store Shopping Center business by creating attractive, friendly downtowns. In many cases parking has been provided on an alley or adjacent street. The mechanism to provide this is to create a Parking District. The Parking District is composed of the properties that will benefit. It would have taxing powers and the power of emanate domain. Merchants would happily charge a few cents to their sales for the benefit of convenient parking for their customers. They may even validate the parking lot ticket. .Since the inception of the Plan, the City has not wanted to create a Parking District or use the power of emanate domain for the good of the public. This is one area that government has the tools to accomplish a need that private enterprise cannot. After 40 some years, no other solution has been presented.
Tina McMillan August 15, 2013 at 06:40 PM
Making a theater district out of downtown would be a boon especially if there is a commercial developer willing to put in the money. The fact that it would include a 350 space parking garage is huge. We couldn't even get our own city council to do this for downtown merchants after years of planning one. To try and compare the tiny downtown theater to what a Theater district could create is apples and walnuts. It's like having a new bookshop in an area with many used bookshops. That is what San Rafael use to have. This complex would cater to new movies; the downtown theater is being described as something all together different.
Roger August 15, 2013 at 06:49 PM
After the developer of Whole Foods lost his shirt, it is lucky we have a developer wanting to bet his own big money on such a bold venture downtown.
Ella August 15, 2013 at 07:19 PM
I love the idea of a theater downtown. We are frequent moviegoers who often patronize the San Rafael theaters. I would love to stay and spend my money in Novato more often, especially in a location that is surrounded by restaurants. Dinner at Muscio's or Tuscany Grill, followed by a movie? Yes, please! Wouldn't it be great if we could get an updated theater that really caters to movie-goers? All the theaters in Marin are terribly out of date. I dream of stadium seating, maybe 21+ screenings with cocktails, premium seating (sofas! reserved seats!), like an Arclight or Landmark provides. This might be wishful thinking, but it would be amazing and would convince me to always stay and see that movie in Novato instead of driving south. At any rate, I think this would bring added vitality to the downtown area, boost evening business at the local restaurants, and give life back to an underused portion of Grant.
Mark Burnham August 15, 2013 at 11:27 PM
Regarding Alan Dunham's post about "parking". What Alan convienently leaves out is that this very same plan he references (the Downtown Specific Plan) calls for a "public parking structure" on the site where the city has decided to build their city office complex. The city council did not "honor" the plan as Alan states, they walked all over what the plan intended to accomplish. The Downtown Specific Plan was designed to create Old Town as a bustling hub, the "heart" as Alan states, where new better businesses would drive people to gather and keep tax dollars here. The city of Novato readily admits that their city office complex will draw only "25-30 people per day", none of whom will contribute to much need sales tax revenues. What the plan called for was a parking garage, much like the one the city is talking about now. The only difference is that the council wasted $15 million to build their Taj Majal that will draw a ridiculous few when they could have spent $5 million to build elsewhere, buy existing and build a parking facility to help build downtown in to the "heart" it was intended to be. Alan is correct in one fashion, he is right that now the tax payer, business owners, and downtown property owners will be on the hook for a large portion of this $7 million dollar parking facility. The city can't afford it as they spent all $15 million RDA dollars for 20,000 sq foot city offices.. while Circle Bank spent only $3.9 million for the same square footage.
Roger August 18, 2013 at 06:04 PM
If Friedman's Hardware is going on at North Redwood, perhaps high-end retail should happen on Grant.
Tina McMillan August 26, 2013 at 11:08 PM
West America Bank has signs up saying they have no knowledge of the theater going in or their lease going out. Karina what location is the city suggesting for the Cineplex?
Roger August 27, 2013 at 12:12 AM
Tina, Petaluma built their Theater District on the edge of downtown. It didn't cause Petaluma downtown to die. Perhaps Novato should do the same and put this Cineplex in the high-end Galleria planned for N. Redwood. It is so much easier to plan comprehensively on a big parcel of cleared land versus small little lots with different owners, some of who don't want to sell.
Tina McMillan August 27, 2013 at 12:45 AM
Roger: I was relieved when they suggested a parking garage at the old Pini site but if the bank is already saying they have no plans of moving I am wondering how the information about the theater got started. When I went there today there were signs posted saying going nowhere, here to stay. Personally I think a theater district would be a great theme but why do we have mixed information about any potential plan? Is this another Novato pipe dream that will just fizzle and die??
Naj August 27, 2013 at 12:56 AM
People....you all seem to have forgotten that we have a multiplex theater. Should they just plow that under? It has sufficient parking and nowhere do we have that downtown. Building a garage to house a theater of that proportion would just make it downtown SF. We are a unique town with an historical district. Why would you want to muck it up with a theater that we don't need and put those people out of work?
Roger August 27, 2013 at 01:12 AM
Naj: Terra Linda has two multiplexes, so I think Novato can sustain two, especially if the new one is next to an exciting busy galleria destination with cafes, bars, etc as in the Petaluma Theater District. It is a happening place, while existing Novato is dead at night. The Novato Council is trying to think big and exciting to boost tax revenue in a huge way since the tax leakage now is big.
Tina McMillan August 27, 2013 at 01:17 PM
Yes to everything Roger just said! Novato is not a "Historical District", it is a hodgepodge of some good and some really terrible planning decisions, like refocusing the lions share of retail at Vintage Oaks. Mimicking the strip mall mentality did nothing to maintain our sales tax base. Vintage Oaks is there to stay but we need to take what's left of our commercial/retail undeveloped land and create a means of tying it together so that the downtown flows and encourages people to walk, bike and drive to all the shops, restaurants, bakeries, businesses and offices along Grant and Redwood.
Roger August 27, 2013 at 05:34 PM
Eleanor, the IJ editorial board today came out in support of a theater district in Novato. I am glad you are taking the time to comment on this issue on the Patch. The other new Council candidate Steve Jordon doesn't speak up much. You going to be at the N Redwood Corridor workshop 9/14/13?
Eleanor Sluis August 27, 2013 at 06:39 PM
Roger, thank you for your comments. A theater district has been in Novato's Downtown Specific plan since 1997 or earlier. Novato Downtown Theater has my support while the cineplex proposal is yet another one that needs planning and time to explore its ramifications in costs/benefits, location, design, scale, and impact on the downtown. And yes, I will be at the workshops.
Mark Burnham August 29, 2013 at 05:42 PM
Do not expect the theater at Rowland to stay open should the multiplex on Grant open it's doors. Rather expect the tenant at Rowland to make the move to downtown Novato. Who know's what would become of the Rowland Theater complex, but it would probably be some other retail use. This is not great news for Moylan's and others on that side of the freeway but it would help downtown thrive.. AND the adjacent/proposed 300-350 parking garage would help the existing Novato theatre's fund raising efforts. Parking downtown would be a boon for the growth of downtown. The real question is.. who would pay for the parking garage? Sounds as if the developer would be kicking down some dough but a small portion. Expect the city to assess business owners and property owners in the downtown cooridor.
Mark Burnham August 29, 2013 at 05:44 PM
A cineplex downtown would not only assist in the fundraising efforts for the existing Novato theater but it would provide the much needed parking for all of downtown (including the Novato Theater) that the city council gave away to an empty city office complex, with it's minimal parking filled by police cars and city fleet vehicles.
Tina McMillan August 29, 2013 at 06:01 PM
Like Finegans, the dedicated following of people at Moylans will not suffer. It is not dependent on the theater. Both restaurants are simply great places to eat.
Tina McMillan August 29, 2013 at 06:04 PM
DNBA already assesses downtown businesses yearly fees and the street improvements already cost the downtown building owners. It seems like they are paying taxes but , I suspect businesses would feel it is worth getting little in return. The parking garage should have been part of the development of the city offices. If turning the downtown into a theater district would bring about a shift to increase the numbers of shoppers then the business owners and building owners could afford the tax increase. The problem in Novato has always been putting the cart before the horse. I just hope we can get a commercial developer interested in this project.


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