Editorial: Theater duo needs due consideration

Generally speaking, we don’t believe it’s a city’s business to pass judgment on whether a specific private commercial enterprise is going to be a financial success.

Nor should a government agency put a numerical cap on certain types of businesses — unless we’re talking, say, porn shops or bars or marijuana dispensaries.

For as much as we might shake our heads when yet another pizza shop or coffee house opens on the same commercial strip, government should not dictate how private enterprise invests its money.

The case in Atascadero, however, is not such an easy call.

Two 10-screen movie theaters are proposed there — one is already under construction at Colony Square, and the other is awaiting city approval.

We share serious doubts as to whether two 10-screen movie theaters can be financially successful in Atascadero.

Think of it this way: Robert Downey Jr. might be able to fill one multiplex in Atascadero, but two?

And as for expecting Cal Poly students to travel over the Cuesta Grade to take in a movie, as one applicant suggests, that’s wishful thinking. It’s not going to happen as long as there are perfectly good theaters in downtown SLO and in South County.

Under the circumstances, the Atascadero City Council is wise to consider the economic viability of approving two theaters in the downtown, before deciding on the second application.

It makes sense to proceed with caution for a couple of reasons.

For one, a movie theater is a substantial physical presence in a downtown — a landmark, if you will. It’s wonderful to have a thriving movie theater, but nothing says urban blight quite like a rundown, empty, hulking shell of a building. Two empty theaters would be even worse.

Also, the city has an investment in the Colony Square development. It pledged $1.5 million in redevelopment money to the project and has a vested interest in seeing that project succeed.

Again, ordinarily we believe it’s up to business operators to do their homework and determine whether it makes sense to invest their money in a new enterprise.

But there is simply too much at stake here — including taxpayer money — to allow both projects to move forward without fully considering the consequences.