Decrepit Downtown Theatre Site Targeted for Renovation Project

The California Theatre building has become an eyesore and safety hazard.

For nearly three decades, the landmark California Theatre building in downtown San Diego has been left to deteriorate.

Surrounded by chain-link fencing and stripped of its marquee awning, the place has become an eyesore and safety hazard.

Now, plans to redevelop the historic site are gaining traction at City Hall.

Built in 1927, the theater closed in 1990 -- no longer profitable as a movie-house and venue for plays and concerts.

Its decline reflects what's happened along the entire C Street corridor, seen by many downtowners as "the Boulevard of Broken Dreams”.

And its revival is being touted as a turning point for the business community in downtown’s financial district.

“Once this area gets cleaner,” said James Langley, managing partner of the neighboring Resident Brewing Company. “You'll see more and more businesses opening up and leasing space on C Street that normally would never get leased."

It's not much of a neighborhood for starting and growing a business, what with the disruptive dynamic of trolley traffic and ghost-town atmosphere of empty storefronts -- not to mention hordes of homeless.

But with the property now under new ownership that's hoping to re-purpose the site with a $125 million residential tower, downtown's funky Financial District could fast-forward into a vibrant 21st Century setting.

The developers of the project, branded "Overture", are betting on a growing market of urban dwellers, not content with a commuter's life in the suburbs.

“That is the sustainable future,” says Cyrus Sanandaji, managing director of Presidio Bay Ventures, which is partnering with Sloan Capital. “To be able to walk and take public transit and ride your bike to and from your place of work and your home, and where you want to go eat and drink and mingle with friends.”

The project faces a number of obstacles in the city's permitting processes, including opposition from historic preservationists who want more of the original structure, theater and stage elements to be incorporated.

“This has got a long way to go,” says Bruce Coons, executive director of the Save our Heritage Organization. “We keep encouraging them to come back and negotiate with us."

Sanandaji says restoring theater use to the project isn't viable, financially or logistically, especially given all the competing entertainment venues downtown.

His most optimistic timetable to start construction is next March.

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