Project would feed downtown night life

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A firm wants to build a food court near a San Bernardino theater.

The Press-Enterprise

Nine years ago, the city of San Bernardino began developing the CinemaStar theater complex. The goal was to use city assistance to give a jump-start to the city’s downtown, where business activity ceases after the sun sets.

By 2001, with downtown redevelopment still a distant goal and the theater’s owner bankrupt, the city bought the property. Still, downtown struggled.

Now, the city is giving redevelopment in the area another shot.

A private developer is close to submitting plans to the city’s Redevelopment Agency to build a food court on the wide lawn in front of the theater, at 5th and North E streets. The “Grassy Knoll” project would consist of restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream parlors or similar businesses.

Businesses in the center would stay open late, giving theatergoers a chance to pump more of their money into downtown after the shows end, said Maggie Pacheco, deputy director of the Redevelopment Agency.

“It was always our vision to have night life at that theater corner location,” she said.

The project’s developer, Watson & Associates of Seal Beach, hasn’t approached restaurants yet about occupying the buildings. But Watson Vice President Chuck Diamond said that he believes the project is close to getting regulatory approval from the city, and could open in late 2006 or early 2007.

It would consist of three buildings of 3,940, 4,000 and 7,000 square feet, connected by an open plaza and a covered promenade. Plans call for one building reserved for retail tenants, and two for retail and food.

Unlike the help the city gave to the CinemaStar, Diamond and Pacheco said the Grassy Knoll has no plans to take city funds.

Instead, Watson, one of the most active developers in the city, would buy the property from the city for fair market value. No other developers have shown any interest in a similar project, Pacheco said.

“Is it tough to bring things like this to downtown? Yes,” said Diamond. “But we’ve made a commitment to do this, so we’re going to do it.”

Published: Thursday, August 25, 2005