Atascadero could get 20 movie screens instead of none

A second developer has vowed to build a movie theater in Atascadero — bringing the possibility of two, 10-screen theaters within walking distance of each other to a town that now has none.

John Roush, owner of Park Cinemas in Paso Robles, unveiled plans Tuesday for a mixed-use project of Italian Renaissance design — mimicking the architecture of the historic Rotunda building — across from the city’s Sunken Gardens on El Camino Real. The proposed project includes 40,000 square feet of shopping or restaurants and a 33,000-square-foot, 10-screen movie theater.

The project, called La Plaza Cinemas, is within walking distance of the long-touted Colony Square project and includes a three-block span from Hoover’s 101 restaurant to Traffic Way. The stretch houses a string of dated smaller buildings and includes a 1.6-acre parcel owned by the Hoff Family that housed the North County Christian Thrift Store before it was destroyed by a fire in March.

Roush’s plan, which would put two theaters nearly across the street from each other in a city of about 28,000 people, would take some “smart competition” for both to be successful, one movie-theater expert said. One downtown business owner said he worried the competition could result in neither theater being built.

Roush, who owned Atascadero’s only movie theater before it was demolished in 2006, had long planned to build a theater as part of Colony Square. But rising costs associated with the project and long delays prevented Roush from getting the financing he needed to build a theater there, he said.

Roush said he will be able to use the equity in his other businesses to help finance the new theater and that a lease-to-own option on the parcel that would house the theater makes it a better financial fit than the theater planned for Colony Square where he would not own the land.

Roush said the project is something that he has always wanted to do and in no way means ill intent toward Colony Square developer Jim Harrison.

In July, Harrison announced that the Sherman Oaks-based Galaxy Theatres would instead lease the movie complex planned for the development.

Just last week, Harrison purchased the building permit to begin construction.

Roush said he is not concerned that the potential competition of the two theaters located within blocks of each other might lessen his potential profits.

“I could do something in some other town and probably make more money,” Roush said. “But I don’t want to, I like it here.”

Roush, a longtime Atascadero resident, has been involved with local movie theaters since the late 1960s. He owns Park Cinemas in Paso Robles, Le-moore Stadium Cinemas, and Heavenly Village Cinemas in South Lake Tahoe.

“I know this town and I know what locals want,” Roush said. “I am going to build this theater.”

The 10-screen La Plaza Cinemas would have 1,400 stadium seats with high- back rocking chairs. All auditoriums would be THX certified and digital projection with 3-D and alternate programming capabilities.

The planned Galaxy Theaters, by comparison, will have 10 screens, digital technology with 3-D capability and popcorn with “real” butter.

Harrison said Roush’s proposed development will not affect his own theater plans. “They are a long way off and we are ready to go,” Harrison said. “We are moving ahead and will break ground next month.”

Atascadero City Council members have pledged $1.5 million in redevelopment money as a financial guarantee for the Colony Square project. Harrison and partner Peter Hilf secured an $8 million construction loan for the theater in early July after long struggling to find the financial backing needed to move the project forward. The loan documents with Mission Community Bank, Santa Lucia Bank and Community West Bank are now complete and being circulated for final review.

Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research at the National Association of Theatre Owners, said it is difficult to measure how successful the two theaters will be in conjunction with one another based on the city’s population alone.

“It will take some smart competition on their part given the sheer number of screens that will be available,” Corcoran said. Roush said his project will be a key player in revitalizing the downtown area — something that city officials have said they hoped the Colony Square project will do.Downtown business owner Bob Wilkins said that a movie theater is desperately needed in town.“A theater will bring the attitude adjustment for the whole town — it is the type of new construction that we need to stimulate business downtown,” Wilkins said. “We need a theater but we can’t afford two and hopefully fighting between the two doesn’t create none.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939.