City eyeing old theater site for auto mall

City officials are angling to turn the site of the 25-year-old Century Park 12 theater, a Bayside property the theater chain previously proposed converting to housing, into an auto mall.

Redwood City hired auto dealership consultants and an outside legal team Monday to help negotiate a deal with the Syufy family, who owns Century Theatres and the property, according to City Manager Ed Everett. He would like to see the city buy or lease the land, which sits on the east side of Highway 101 just south of the Whipple Avenue exit, to make room for a “mini auto mall.”

“We're going to start discussions and see what happens,” Everett said. He estimated that four dealerships could fit on the 14-acre theater site.

After Century Theatres announced plans to open its 20-screen cineplex in downtown Redwood City, the owners proposed building 600 apartments where the old theater stands. Those plans were tabled when city planners said they didn't think housing belonged in the primarily industrial zone, and Century shocked the downtown business community in February by saying it would keep Century Park 12 open after the downtown cinema opens.

Talks have not yet begun, but Century is interested in making money from that property any way it can, according to consultant David Irmer, who is also Century's developer for the downtown project.

“Century … intends to keep the land as a viable asset,” Irmer said. “But they would be willing to undertake a long-term commitment with the city so that the city could reach out to car agencies.”

The move is in keeping with Redwood City's long-term goal to establish downtown as a destination for retail. Many of its auto dealerships are currently located on Veterans Boulevard, skirting downtown, but new designs for the city's core would discourage those businesses in that location.

It could also be a tax boon for the city. In Burlingame, for example, which has an auto row on Highway 101 along with dealerships downtown, $3.8 million — more than 40 percent of the city's total sales tax collections — will come from auto sales this year, according to Burlingame Finance Director Jesus Nava.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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