Last chance to comment on new operator

Monday may be our last chance to comment on the new operator of the Cerrito Theater.

On Monday, at 8 p.m., June 29, 2009, at City Hall, 10890 San Pablo Ave., the El Cerrito City Council/Redevelopment Agency is likely to approve a new operator for the historic Cerrito Theater. Rialto Cinemas, aka the Pleasantown Motion Picture Co., has been identified by city staff as their preferred choice.

Two other operators have also put in bids. Bear in mind that the ultimate decision is up to council, not staff. The staff selected their preferred operator based on the proposals and each firm’s experience, background and capacity.

If all goes well, the Cerrito could be showing movies by mid July.

Please attend this City Council/Redevelopment Agency meeting to show your support for the Cerrito, and to make any suggestions you may have for ensuring the theater’s success. This will be a special meeting devoted almost entirely to the Cerrito Theater. This will also be a wonderful opportunity to welcome the Cerrito’s new operators to town and to show them how much we care!

Friends of the Cerrito Theater heartily applauds the City Council for working quickly and diligently to re-open our beloved theater. Whichever operator gets the nod will be welcomed to town! Friends hopes to work cooperatively with the winning bidder to ensure that this historic treasure of a building retains its historic qualities and serves El Cerrito as an important entertainment and community venue.

All three proposals can be viewed online as part of the council packet for Monday’s meeting. Visit, go to “Week at a Glance” on the right, and click on the “Special City Council/RDA Meeting” for Monday. The proposals online include information on how much rent each firm would pay. Proprietary information on each business is not included.

Rialto Cinemas proposes to show first-run films plus foreign films, independents and documentaries. Children would be permitted, with parents. They promise more family programming, matinees and longer hours generally, and community days and other special events. Beer and wine would continue to be served, and the food would have a “more sophisticated appeal.”

The It Club would become “the Scene,” an upscale wine bar, and the It Club Two a mini-screening room for HD video. In the main theaters, fixed seating would replace most or all of the chairs and sofas. The number of seats would thus increase.

The Rialto runs the Elmwood in Berkeley and Lakeside in Santa Rosa.

Motion Picture Heritage Corp., which also submitted a bid, is made up of experienced theater operators from the Mid West who have restored several historic theaters, several of which serve food and wine, including the West Bend Cinema Brewhaus in Wisconsin.

Motion Picture Heritage also suggests increasing the Cerrito’s hours, removing age restrictions, and serving beer and wine and food. The group would adjust the films it shows to appeal to the broader El Cerrito “demographic” of families, seniors, etc. Motion Picture Heritage also would continue the Cerrito’s “alternative” programming.

The group has proposed a student film festival, experimental films, films on science, senior matinees, author readings, and “Box Office Babes,” similar to the Cerrito’s popular Bay Brigade. They would also establish a board of community advisors.

Motion Picture Heritage would simplify and revamp the menu and bring in an outside cafe to operate the It Club.

The third applicant, Cinema West, runs 11 theaters in Petaluma, Angels Camp, Fairfax, Sebastopol, Martinez and other towns. Their original application said they would “experiment” with food and beverage service, but added that food and beverage service could be “infeasible to deliver.” The firm has subsequently suggested they would be willing to provide food.

Cinema West also suggested adding more fixed seating and greater seating capacity, plus installing digital projection. They would provide 3D shows, 3D concerts and live events.

Friends of the Cerrito Theater hopes to see you at Monday’s meeting!

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