Lights, camera, action for new cinema

Business owners and citizens are counting down the days and hours until Friday night, when the 20-screen Century Theatres site opens downtown.

“Friday night will be the last day of the old downtown Redwood City that people have known for 50 years,” said John Anagnostou, owner of the Fox Theatre, located next door to the new cinema site. “The transition is going to blow people away.”

It’s been a long wait for many, including downtown proprietors who endured eight months of street closures and delays while construction crews prepared the retail-cinema site for opening day. Redwood City’s newest downtown draw was due to open in August of 2005, but a multitude of delays caused by steel supplies and a long rainy season pushed its completion back by nearly a year.

As crews installed lights over the ticket counter Tuesday afternoon, passers-by peeked into the theater’s open front door to admire the high-ceilinged lobby and ask questions about opening night.

Redwood City has poured $49 million into roadwork, landscaping and a new parking garage underneath the cinema, while developers with BHV Innisfree have spent $75 million on the main building, according to Redwood City Redevelopment Agency Director Susan Moeller. That money is aimed at a downtown revitalization that will help the area shed its “Deadwood City” image.

Officials expect roughly a million people to visit downtown each year. Sales tax from the theater and its accompanying shops should bring in $200,000 a year for the city, according to Finance Director Brian Ponty.

Business has already increased at shops along Broadway, such as Young’s Ice Cream, since the street reopened earlier this month, according to Young’s owner Cathy Oyster.

Oyster took her kids this week to a preview of “Ant Bully” — perhaps the last time she’ll have to leave town to do so. “I thought, ‘We’re going to be seeing premieres in our own little theater soon.’ I’m excited,” she said.

In the coming months, Middlefield Road between Veterans Boulevard and Broadway will be treated with new colored lamps and an archway guiding pedestrians to the “Theater District,” according to plans approved Monday night by the City Council. A new downtown plaza in front of the 1910 Courthouse is also expected to open in October.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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