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?

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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