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Cinemark terminates lease on the property: Officials
After a more-than-20-year run, Evanston’s downtown movie theater is closed and will not be opening under the current ownership, City officials confirmed Feb. 22.
The final curtain came down in a courtroom.
The Exit Clause Loophole
Century 12/Cinemark theatres and the Stockbridge Capital Group, the owner of the Church Street Plaza development at Church Street and Maple Avenue, have been in litigation for nearly the entire duration of the pandemic over a lease exit clause, officials confirmed.
“It really came down to a loophole in their lease agreement that allowed Cinemark to exit and terminate the lease,” said Paul Zalmezak, the City’s Economic Development Manager, on Feb. 22.
“The ownership disagreed and challenged them in court but the court agreed with Cinemark. Cinemark then terminated its lease,” he said.
According to the owners, there is no chance Cinemark will reconsider its decision and reopen, said Mr. Zalmezak.
“I’m not anxious, but I’m disappointed,” said Mr. Zalmezak about receiving the news.
“I talked to Cinemark a year ago and told them how important it was for them to be part of our community, and at the time there was no indication they were dropping out.”
Cinemark Replaced Century
Developer Arthur Hill tapped Century Theatres, a family-owned firm based in the West Coast, as the theater operator in the City’s new Church Street Plaza downtown development in 1998.
Officials’ initial estimate was that the cinema houses would bring an estimated 1.5 million moviegoers a year into downtown, the business acting as an economic engine for the area.
Mr. Zalmezak said that while officials believe the movie theater was profitable in the location, the margins were not as high as some of Century’s other sites. He said that while a number of other area movie theaters had made upgrades, adding amenities, “This particular location didn’t do that.”
Looking for a New Operator
He said the City’s focus right now is to find another movie operator for the space. Mr. Zalmezak said he is working with Annie Coakley, executive director of downtownevanston.org, which provides marketing and management services to the downtown area, on the search for a new operator.
Officials are looking for not just anybody in that capacity, he said, but someone who would undertake an upgrade. He said the process could take as long as 18 months.
“We need to diversify our tax base and lessen our burden on residents,” he said. “We need to really make sure we get visitors and attract more office workers and grow our downtown,” generating sales tax revenue. “Also there’s a quality-of-life issue,” he added. “We want to offer within a few miles of most residents the ability to see movies.”