Details Look Good in Cerrito Theater Sale

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Friends of the Cerrito Theater has supported the proposed agreement for the city of El Cerrito to sell the historic Cerrito Theater to its current occupants, who do business as Rialto Cinemas. We did have some concerns that restrictions on changing the theater’s historic fabric might not be strong enough.

But now that the details have been worked out and described as part of the contract, we have to say it looks very good.

The city needs to sell the theater because the state of California put local redevelopment agencies out of business several years ago and told them to sell their assets, the theater being one.

Rialto, which is buying it through a related company (Great Falls Entertainment) is paying $790,000. That price takes into account both the repair and maintenance costs Rialto must expend.

More significantly, it also takes into account the reduced monetary value of the theater brought about by Rialto’s agreement—which is part of the deed—to:

  • Operate the theater as either a cinema or performance space for 99 years
  • Preserve the historic elements for 99 years

Both are significant restraints. They mean the theater will continue to be an asset to the El Cerrito community for another century.

We originally had concerns that the language about preserving historic elements like the marquee, the Art Deco glass, murals, and original paint jobs inside the theater, might not be strong enough.

We also wanted to make sure that someone would watch over Rialto’s renovations and maintenance to make sure all was done properly.

We no longer have those concerns because Rialto has agreed to our suggestion that any changes be done in accordance with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. These standards are used to guide work on historic properties nationwide.

Rialto also agreed that the city will monitor work done on the theater, and can remove historic elements if that becomes necessary. Friends of the Cerrito Theater will of course continue in its watchdog role.

We encourage people to read more about the proposed deal through the staff report for tonight’s meeting and the agreement itself.

The council will discuss the deal at its meeting tonight, Tuesday, June 19, at 7 p.m. The council is expected to agree to it, as it has been discussed with them in a legal closed session – and as members of the council fully understand how important the continued existence of the Cerrito Theater, operating as Rialto Cinemas Cerrito, is to the citizens of El Cerrito and to the economic well being of our town.

Please attend public meetings to show support for preserving the Cerrito Theater

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Friends of the Cerrito Theater is asking people who love the historic theater, which operates as Rialto Cinemas Cerrito, and want to see it preserved as a movie theater and as a historic building to attend two meetings, next week and the week after.

On Tuesday, June 19, starting at 7 p.m., during its regular meeting, the El Cerrito City Council will be asked to approve a deal selling the theater to its current operators, Rialto Cinemas. The meeting is at City Hall, 10890 San Pablo Ave.

Friends of the Cerrito Theater has been discussing the proposed sale with city officials and the people from Rialto and we support the sale.

The last we heard, the agreement will call for deed restrictions that would preclude any other use of the building other than for movies, theater or performance, and would safeguard the historic elements, from neon marquee to art glass to murals.

The terms of the restrictions would last 99 years. You can read the proposed agreement by pulling up the agenda for the Tuesday meeting. It will be posted Thursday.

The City Council is expected to back the agreement with no controversy.

The city has to sell the theater because it bought it under redevelopment law. When the state ordered the end of redevelopment, cities that served as redevelopment agencies were told to dispose of redevelopment assets, which include the theater.

Funds from the sale will go to various taxing agencies, including the city, county, and school district.

The more important meeting will be Wednesday, June 27, at 7 p.m. and also at City Hall (likely in a small conference room).

This will be a meeting of the “Oversight Board for the Successor Agency of the former El Cerrito Redevelopment Agency.” This group, with local representatives, was set up to ensure fair disposition of redevelopment properties.

It will be asked to approve the sale of the theater to Rialto Cinemas.

It is clear that the city could get more money by selling the theater to a developer who would rip it down for housing. (Though that would be complicated by the series of leases Rialto currently holds for the building).

Loss of the theater would also be a devastating blow to the citizenry of El Cerrito and fans of the theater from surrounding towns. It would also harm the city’s business climate and the “theater district” that has grown up around the theater.

The city used redevelopment funds to buy and help restore the theater to boost economic development and social well-being in the city. In that, the city succeeded. No one wants to lose those benefits.

The bet is that the “Oversight Board” will understand this. But wouldn’t it be wise to remind them just how strongly people in El Cerrito want to do what Friends got together to do back in 2002?

Save the Cerrito Theater.

If you cannot attend the Oversight meeting, you can send comments or drop them off at City Hall. Address them to “Oversight Board of the Successor Agency,” c/o City Hall, 10890 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito, 94530.

Friends of the Cerrito Theater Supports Proposed Sales Agreement with Rialto Cinemas

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Friends of the Cerrito Theater strongly supports efforts by the City of El Cerrito and Rialto Cinemas to reach an agreement on the proposed sale of the historic, 1937 Art Deco-styled Cerrito Theater to Rialto Cinemas.

On June 19, the El Cerrito City Council is scheduled to discuss and vote on a sale of the Cerrito Theater to the theater’s current operator, Rialto Cinemas, which leases the building from the city.

Negotiations are ongoing and no final agreement has been reached. But city staff and Rialto are developing a plan that, if incorporated into the sale agreement, would ensure that Rialto Cinemas Cerrito, as the theater is known, would continue to successfully show first-run movies, special screenings, and movie classics, and to sell food and beverages, without interruption.

In addition, Rialto would agree to continue providing 12 community days for special screenings by local organizations.

Importantly, Rialto Cinemas would agree to preserve all of the theater’s historic elements, from the façade and neon marquee to the etched glass in doorways and a mirror, the original painting scheme, light sconces and more. A mechanism to ensure this preservation is being developed.
On top of that, Rialto would agree to a permanent deed restriction requiring that the building be operated “in perpetuity” as a theater or performance space. (Though not necessarily as a movie theater.)

That means that, 10 or 20 years down the road, we would not be seeing condos or a drug store in that space.

Friends of the Cerrito Theater, which has been working to restore and preserve the theater since 2001, believes this proposed agreement is the best outcome we could have. The city never intended to own the theater forever.

We commend the City Council and city staff. We also thank the owners of Rialto for working with the city towards a positive solution.

Friends hopes to continue our close and cooperative relationship with Rialto after the sale, including presentations of classic movies.

Friends of the Cerrito Theater will follow this process closely. Members of the public can learn more by contacting Melanie Mintz, Community Development Director at 215-4339 or mmintz@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us.

There will be a public meeting in the small meeting room at the theater at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 6. We encourage people to attend. The City Council is expected to discuss and vote on the sale at its Tuesday, June 19 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall.