The movie theater CineArts will remain at Palo Alto Square until at least mid-September, thanks to a 30-day lease extension that was recently signed by the theater's parent company and the building owner, Palo Alto City Manager James Keene said Monday.
The popular theater was set to close this week after the Texas-based theater company Cinemark decided not to renew its lease with Hudson Pacific Property, owner of Palo Alto Square. A spokesman for Cinemark told the Weekly in late July that the company decided that the theater required an expensive update, which was deemed cost prohibitive.
The announcement of the theater's imminent closure prompted an online petition, signed by more than 2,500 residents, urging the two companies to keep CineArts operating without interruption. City officials and council members, who were in the midst of their summer break, also became involved in the preservation effort, with Councilwomen Liz Kniss and Karen Holman reaching out to Hudson Pacific and CineArts just after the news of the theater's closure broke in late July.
On Aug. 2, the city sent each company a letter, signed by Mayor Pat Burt, offering to convene a group discussion on hopes of keeping its theater in Palo Alto open. The letter sent to Drew Gordon, vice president of Hudson Pacific, referred to a meeting the prior week in which company and city officials agreed that their priority was "to keep CineArts theater at Palo Alto Square," and in which Hudson reportedly "committed to reach out to CineArts to see if anything can be done to incentivize them to stay in Palo Alto."
The letter also refers to conversations that Councilman Tom DuBois had with several executives at CineArts, who reportedly expressed that "they are a community oriented organization and have an interest in remaining in Palo Alto."
A separate letter, sent to CineArts, offered to convene a meeting "to discuss your reasons and see if there is anything we can do to maintain your presence in our community."
The letter refers to the theater as "an important cultural amenity in Palo Alto" and proposes a conversation as soon as possible about keeping the theater open and operating.
Though the theater's long-term future remains murky, Keene said Monday that the two companies have signed an agreement through Sept. 15. The extension would give them time to negotiate the needed tenant improvements and possibly come up with a longer lease to keep the theater in its location, he said.
Keene noted that because the theater was included in the original development plan for Palo Alto Square, no other use of that building would be permitted without a zone change, which would have to be approved by the City Council. However, because the theater is not listed as a "public benefit" (a zoning concept that didn't exist in 1969, when Palo Alto Square was approved as part of a "planned-community" application), the absence of a theater would not constitute a zoning violation. Thus, code enforcement would not be an option if the theater were to close, Keene said.