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Will Westwood Moviegoing Majesty End?

Residents and business owners worry about a stiff rise in parking fees.

Now that the Los Angeles City Council has agreed to move forward with a plan to privatize nine city-owned garages, local theater owners and operators ponder the effect on the area’s historic moviegoing business and well as Westwood business in general.

“Is it hurting me or will it hurt me? A little bit,” said John Storey, marketing coordinator for Bigfoot Entertainment’s Majestic Crest Theatre.  “But what they’ll end up doing is killing Westwood for good.”

Currently, the city subsidizes the parking garages—including the By for up to 50 years, Los Angeles hopes to save $53 million in the first fiscal year and more in succeeding years.

That has residents and business owners worried about the demise of two-hour free parking and a stiff rise in parking fees.

“Gee, I can go to Century City and park for three hours for free or I can go to the Westwood Village where there’s no free parking,” quipped Steve Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council. "Most consumers are going to chose the former.”

Storey says Bigfoot Entertainment, which bought the in October, will continue to rely on the 40-80 space lot directly behind the theater (located at 1262 Westwood Blvd.) to satisfy parking needs. Meanwhile, he is also looking to renew an old arrangement with the parking structure behind the lot where patrons could pay only $2 with validation.

He still has concerns over the city’s pending parking privatization.

“It’s all inter-related. If visitors coming for a night out are going to have to pay $2 every 30 minutes, a $50 evening is going to turn into a $70 one,” said Story.  “They’re going to choose alternatives. "

The Crest is in the midst of a major programming overhaul that will incorporate more alternative programming like Warner Bros. cartoon screenings. At the same time, the theater continues to draw older crowds for first-run films and indie movie premieres.   

Westwood’s and theaters, on the other hand, cater to UCLA students, not to mention the big premiere crowds.

  “We’re competing with Century City and the Westside Pavilion where you can drive in and there’s free parking,” said Lyndon Golin, CEO of Regency Theatres, which took over the historic Bruin and Village theaters in March. “That’s why we’ve targeted the students at UCLA.”

Still, Golin who is trying to remain competitive with aggressive pricing and marketing gambits like the $10 plastic bucket of popcorn with free refills all year long, says parking in Westwood is and will be the big challenge.

“We are lucky because we are sought out for the big presentation film. The special event business is always going to be there because you can’t get 1,400 seats just anywhere and a lot of filmmakers want to be in that theater because of the picture and sound,” said Golin. “But if you’re a restaurant, it’s a problem for a community that’s already struggling. It’s another deterrent, which is not good."

Sann argues that the Broxton garage with 366 parking spaces was never a gift from the city to Westwood. He says money for the garage was generated by Westwood parking meters. He calls city plans to use this garage to balance its books for a very short period of time a terrible idea.

“Every other city has figured it out—Beverly Hills, Santa Monica… Do you think the 3rd Street Promenade would have blossomed if the city had not built those six parking garages?" asked Sann.

 “It would behoove the City to look at places that are successful like Santa Monica and Old Pasadena and see what they’re doing,” Storey concurred.

“Having parking affordable and available is essential to the survival of these single screen theaters and businesses,” said Sann. “Maintaining free parking is essential if this village is going to be able to survive as a viable retail business.”

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Bryan Jackson February 07, 2011 at 06:33 PM
With the loss of the National, Festival, Westwood 4, & Plaza theaters (and the loss of the LA Film Festival) clearly Westwood has ceded any notion of being the center of movie going. Those days are long gone. Strangely it isn't a good college town, it has lots of empty retail, and now the limited parking is probably getting more expensive. The only thing that could help will be the arrival of the subway. Will Westwood be ready with a new identity by the time the Metro arrives?

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