DOWNEY – The city of Downey has reached a deal to sell the historic but run-down Avenue Theatre to a group of investors who plan to redevelop the former discount movie house into contemporary restaurants.
City Council members voted 4-0 Monday to authorize the sale to Downey Restaurant Group at a price of $750,000. The city purchased the property for $1.2 million in 2008.
Downey Restaurant Group is a partnership between former mayor Kirk Cartozian and restaurateur Adrian Amosa. They own the recently-opened Gaucho Grill restaurant at the Promenade in Downey along with eateries in Burbank, Brentwood and downtown Long Beach.
"The Downey Restaurant Group plans an adaptive reuse of the same footprint of the former Avenue Theatre building," community development director Aldo Schindler wrote in a report to council members. "As such, it is their intent to appropriately restore the site and rename the future 10,000 square foot operating facility complex Alegria at the Avenue Theatre.
"This multi-functional complex will host a balanced mix of restaurants and identities, sure to deliver the highest levels of gastronomic and entertainment experiences to its patrons," Schindler added.
Conceptual designs call for a pizza parlor at the entrance facing Downey Avenue, with a second restaurant and pub facing 3rd Street.
"Two new storefronts will bring the building back to life," Schindler said. "The existing marquee will be preserved and fully restored."
The project is contingent on the site being structurally sound and passing a property inspection. The city holds the right of first refusal to buy the property back if plans fall through.
Downey Restaurant Group also needs to obtain project approval from the Planning Commission in order for escrow to close. Proceeds from the sale will reimburse the city's housing funds, which were used to purchase the site in 2008.
City council members praised the sale, calling redevelopment of the Avenue an expensive and complicated project that few wanted to take on.
"The fact is, unless someone stepped up to redevelop the Avenue like this group did, it was going to remain idle for years and years and years," said Mayor Alex Saab.
According to the Downey Arts Coalition, the Avenue Theatre opened in 1922 as a vaudeville stage and was renovated in 1949 as a movie theater. Its stage also served as a dance studio for choreographer Doris Niles, a well-known concert and ballet dancer.
The theater closed in 2004, when it was operating as a dollar movie house.