City opens talks on ‘mini auto mall’

City officials are talking openly for the first time about leasing the Century 12 property east of U.S. Highway 101 — a thorn in downtown businesses’ side since the new Century 20 site opened in July.

Redwood City entered closed-door talks in March with the Syufy family — which owns the Century 12 site and recently sold its Century Theatres chain to Cinemark — to purchase or lease the parcel at 557 E. Bayshore Road. The city hired auto dealership consultants with Vogel Strategies in May, as first reported in The Examiner, to assist in negotiations to potentially create a “mini auto mall,” according to City Manager Ed Everett.

Though a lease has not been finalized, the Redwood City Council will consider today whether to set aside $200,000 to perform environmental studies and hire architects to create drawings of what the site could look like, according to a report from Housing and Economic Development Manager Patricia Webb.

“The idea of the city leasing that property from the Syufys and getting auto sales out there is a great idea,” said Fox Theatre owner John Anagnostou, who has closely tracked the futures of Century’s two local theaters. “That’s what it’s zoned for, and auto sales are a [top] tax generator.”

The Syufy family submitted plans in 2005 to build 600 luxury condominiums on the Bayshore Road site. City planners have resisted, saying that housing does not belong on the property.

Meanwhile, downtown business owners assumed Century Theatres would close the Century 12 when the downtown site opened, and were shocked when they learned it would remain open, Fox Theatre owner John Anagnostou said.

City Council members could not be reached for comment on the potential lease agreement Sunday.

Many in Redwood City think the Syufys kept the Century 12 open to leverage its interest in building housing or getting some other financial benefit from the site. Others noted that first-run films were being shown predominantly at the Century 12 until

Cinemark’s purchase of Century Theaters took effect Oct. 5.

“The property owners had the city in a difficult position because they hadn’t agreed to close the theater, and refused to advertise the new theater until the city agreed to their plans to build condos,” said Ralph Nobles, a co-founder of the Friends of Redwood City residents’ group. “I gather they’ve backed down.”

The Redwood City Council meets tonight at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 1017 Middlefield Road.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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