Developer of second proposed Atascadero movie theater withdraws plans

La Plaza drops out, leaving Galaxy as sole cinema; thrift store is looking to return to its former site

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comFebruary 13, 2011 

About a year of heated controversy followed by a seven-month stalemate over whether a second movie theater would be built in Atascadero has ended in a fizzled land sale, a withdrawn cinema proposal and the possibility of a rebuilt thrift store.

La Plaza Cinemas developer Larry Wysong said Friday he withdrew his project application from the city Jan. 20 after the owners of the main El Camino Real parcel that Wysong wanted to buy told him they are pursuing another project.

The parcel, owned by the Hoff family, was the 30-year home to North County Christian School’s thrift store before a fire destroyed it in March 2009.

Mary Beth (Hoff) Alvord and Tim Alvord couldn’t be reached for comment, but school officials confirmed that the Hoff family is in talks to rebuild the thrift store and rent it to North County Christian.

After being closed nearly three months, the thrift store reopened nearby in a location half the size of the original shop.

Another movie house in downtown Atascadero, Galaxy Theatres, is set to open March 18. Developers for that project obtained approval to build in downtown’s Colony Square long before La Plaza was proposed.

The city is using $1.5 million in taxpayer money to back the Colony Square development.

“It got so political,” Wysong said Friday of the discussions about a second theater, which had ignited public scrutiny of whether two 10-screen cinemas would be viable in a city of about 27,000 people.

In a May 2010 letter to the city, Galaxy representatives said they were no longer certain their theater had a future in Atascadero if La Plaza was approved.

Ultimately, City Council members said they didn’t want to set both businesses up to fail and be left with two vacant theater buildings in a downtown they are trying to revive.

So, in July, the council required a third-party feasibility study to determine whether Atascadero could support 20 screens.

Wysong refused to undertake the study because he believed it was a stall tactic. The council and Wysong never publicly discussed the issue after that point.

The council twice extended its deadline to approve or deny the permit needed to move the theater forward.

The last deadline was set for this month. During the time extensions, city officials said they were reviewing other uses for the site but did not disclose any details.

Those plans now appear to have fallen through.

On Friday, North County Christian School Administrator Louis Mann confirmed that he is in talks with the Hoff family to return the school’s thrift store to where it stood for three decades.

The thrift store, where sales help fund tuition scholarships, reopened farther south on El Camino Real after the fire. Its lease is up in April 2012, Mann said. The Hoff parcel has remained vacant, with smoke damage still visible on the building next door.

Wysong was in negotiations to buy the Hoff property along with several parcels next to it.

He proposed to revamp the three-block span from Hoover’s 101 restaurant to Traffic Way with the theater, shops and eateries.

The theater was the first piece proposed. Now that the Hoff deal has fizzled out, Wysong said he isn’t going forward with a theater project, for now.

“Without the theater going in, I don’t have an anchor store,” he said. “So I thought I’d just pull back and see what happens.”

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