Wednesday, February 3, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: Lease for Berkeley’s Oaks Theatre to Expire on Feb. 28

By Nate Seltenrich
Wed, Feb 3, 2010 at 2:21 PM

Metropolitan Theatres Corporation, which currently operates Oaks Theatre on Solano Avenue in Berkeley, has announced it will not renew its lease when it expires on February 28. The family-owned and Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Theatres signed a five-year lease on the theater in early 2005.

Currently, no plan is in place for theater operations come March 1. One longtime employee, who asked to remain anonymous, was confident that another theater operator would step in: “This is a wonderful spot here. It's a wonderful location. You really can't miss here. Someone will definitely pick it up. I have very high hopes for it." Officials at Metropolitan Theatres could not be reached for comment.

A tip received by the Express suggested that Oaks employees had cited Rialto Cinemas, which operates the Elmwood in Berkeley and took over the newly renovated Cerrito Theater in El Cerrito from Speakeasy Theaters last July, as a potential suitor. Ky Boyd, proprietor of Rialto Cinemas, would neither confirm nor deny such reports. He was, however, aware of the lease’s upcoming expiration. "We're always looking for other opportunities,” he said, but declined to comment further.

The two-screen Oaks Theatre was constructed in 1925 and is owned and managed by John Gordon of Gordon Commercial Real Estate, who bought the building three years ago. Gordon confirmed that the building's lease is up and noted that he is actively looking for a successor, preferably another movie theater operator. "That's why I bought the building, to keep it as a movie theater," he said. He said he has yet to receive any interest, but thinks a local operator would be better suited to run the theater than Metropolitan, which had only one location in Northern California. He also suggested that the building might be converted to a four-screen theater, which would make it more viable for operators like Landmark Theatres, which runs the Albany Twin at the other end of Solano Avenue. (Gordon also managed the UC Theater building on University Avenue, which is slated to be converted to a music venue this fall.)

The Oaks has experienced its share of difficulties in recent history. Metropolitan took over for previous operator Allan Michaan of Renaissance Rialto Cinemas, current owner/operator of the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. Michaan had restored the theater in 1994 and cited problems with obtaining first-run art films as his reason for losing it. Landmark Theatres’ well-established presence in Berkeley, and particularly the proximity of the Albany Twin, have resulted in stiff competition for the theater. “The Oaks is the best theater in Berkeley in the best neighborhood in Berkeley,” he told the Berkeley Daily Planet at the time. The only problem, it seems, has been finding an operator who can capitalize on that.

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