The developer of 2211 Harold Way and Landmark Theatres are nearing a deal to build 10 new theaters in the proposed complex. Photo: Sharon Hahn Darlin
The developer of 2211 Harold Way and Landmark Theatres are nearing a deal to build 10 new theaters in the complex. Photo: Sharon Hahn Darlin

The developer of 2211 Harold Way and Landmark Theatres are nearing a deal to increase the number of movie theaters in the 302-unit building in downtown Berkeley to 10 — but detractors say the changes do not go far enough.

After discussions with Ted Mundorf, the CEO of Landmark, Joseph Penner of HSR Berkeley Investments has submitted a new set of plans with the 10 theaters. Previously, the number of theaters proposed had ranged from zero to nine.

The current plan, which still needs city approval, would place the box office by the sidewalk on Shattuck Avenue, much like it currently is. There would be four theaters on the street level. Patrons would take an escalator, stairs or an elevator one flight down to the six other theaters. There would also be bathrooms, a bar, a lounge and a snack bar on the bottom level.

The new plans call for 641-650 seats, according to the plans and a letter from Mundorf to Penner. The seats may be recliners. Currently, there are 11 theaters in the Shattuck Cinemas complex with 850 seats.

Read more about the Harold Way plans in past Berkeleyside coverage.

“With the design nearing completion, we look forward to developing an agreement regarding terms,” Mundorf wrote to Penner on June 17. “Obviously we understand that until the project is approved no deal can be finalized, but we are interested in continuing our long term relationship at this site in a newly constructed facility.”

The project at 2211 Harold Way which influenced the commission's decision, Finacom said. Image: MVEI Architects
The proposed project at 2211 Harold Way will now include 10 movie theaters. Image: MVEI Architects

Replacing the theaters has emerged as a key issue for the approval of 2211 Harold Way, formally known as The Residences at Berkeley Plaza. The 180-foot-high, 18-story building will hold 302 apartments in three towers built behind and adjacent to the Hotel Shattuck Plaza. There will be 10,500 square feet of retail space and a 170-car garage. It will cost about $120 million to build.

To build the towers, the developer must demolish the existing 1959 “Hink’s Building” (a.k.a. Postal Annex), located at the corner of Harold and Allston Way, as well as a portion of a 1926 Walter Ratcliff addition to the Shattuck Hotel, and a 1913 addition extending west of the hotel along Kittredge Street, according to city documents.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission is still reviewing the project’s application for a structural alteration permit and will take up the issue again Aug. 13. The Zoning Adjustments Board has already certified the project’s EIR but will take up other issues, including community benefits, in the coming months.

When Penner first proposed the project in December 2012, no theaters were included in the design. After the public expressed concern that eliminating the theaters would remove a major downtown attraction, Penner redesigned the project in June 2013 to include six theaters with stadium-style seating. When Landmark decided it no longer wanted stadium-style seating, Penner was able to increase the number of theaters to nine. Further discussion between the two parties led to the current design.

Penner agreed to add the theaters, but told the city of Berkeley that the inclusion should count as part of the project’s “significant community benefits.” Theaters generally lose money. Landmark currently pays below market rent and Penner agreed to continue that arrangement after the new theaters were built. The construction, rent reduction and loss of other rental opportunities, however, would cost Penner $16 million over the next 20 years, he said. Penner said he wanted that included in the benefits package.

Landmark Theatres is part of 2929 Entertainment, a company owned by billionaire Mark Cuban and his business partner Todd Wagner. The company also owns the HDNet cable channel and Magnolia Pictures.

Landmark was founded in 1974, and has grown to 48 theaters with 223 screens in 21 markets, according to its website.

When Penner first announced his plans for 2211 Harold Way, a group of Berkeley residents devoted to the preservation of the current theater complex formed Save Shattuck Cinemas. They collected more than 2,000 signatures in protest of the plans to demolish the theaters. They also interviewed the manager of Shattuck Cinemas and determined that 275,000-300,000 people buy movie tickets each year. The group argued that the theaters are a huge downtown attraction with spillover benefits. Many of the people who came to see a movie stayed for dinner or drinks and spent money in Berkeley. Eliminating the theaters would be detrimental to the economy, they argued, as would the two-year construction period for the complex.

Save Shattuck Cinemas has never changed its basic message even though Penner pledged in June 2013 to restore some of the theaters. The group has continued to tell people that the construction of The Residences at Berkeley Plaza would mean the destruction of the theaters. As shortly as two weeks ago the group put out a humorous video that repeated this assertion. The film also shows Gerald and Chris Seegmiller, the brothers who own the Berkeley Vacuum & Sewing Center on Berkeley Way and quotes them as saying that the developer is not offering any assistance in relocation. However, that is for a project, L’Argent, that is blocks away from the Shattuck Cinemas.

YouTube video

Save Shattuck Cinemas could not comment on the new plans for 10 theaters since its members had not reviewed them as a group. But Kelly Hammargren, who is active in the group, did take a look at the plans provided to her by Berkeleyside. She said that while increasing the number of screens to 10 was important, and would allow Landmark to screen a diversity of films, she still could not support 2211 Harold Way. There are other detriments to the building, she said. It is just too big and in the wrong place. The developer should also pay more for inclusionary housing, she said.

These are the conditions under which Hammargren and others could support the project, she wrote in an email. Another member of the group, filmmaker Donald Goldmacher, concurred with Hammargren.

“The issues that Shattuck Cinemas group has discussed that would change our position on the building are the following:

  • Retaining cinema in Berkeley as an important cultural resource with 10 screens.
  • Inclusionary affordable housing. We would love to see another building like Oxford Plaza on this site which is 100% affordable housing.
  • Preserving the view from Campanile Way without intrusion.
  • Sustainable green architecture reaching toward zero net energy with rainwater capture, gray water reuse, unit metering.
  • Protection of the environment from night light.
  • Supporting local economy. The loss of 275,000 – 300,000 annual ticket sales for the years during construction will impact local business and then it will take time to bring people back to Berkeley after construction is completed.”

Under current Berkeley law, Penner must make 10% of the units affordable to low-income residents or pay an in lieu fee into the city’s Housing Trust Fund. At $20,000 a unit, that will amount to more than $6 million.

The Berkeley City Council approved a set of community benefits for 2211 Harold Way in July which would have Penner either pay a lump sum based on square footage fees to Berkeley, or pay directly for the benefits, which would include the theaters. Mark Rhoades, who is shepherding the project through the entitlement process, said the community benefits fee would amount to around $13.5 million. That would be in addition to the payment into the Housing Trust Fund and other payments for street improvements.

Berkeley council adopts community benefits package (o7.16.15)
Op-ed: Let’s say ‘yes’ to a vibrant downtown Berkeley (07.10.15)
Council approves community benefits package; ZAB votes to certify Harold Way EIR (06.29.15)
Op-ed: Developers should share with community the wealth created by tall buildings (06.09.15)
Op-ed: Harold Way deserves better than Berkeley (05.28.15)
With Harold Way EIR approval on hold, officials to consider community benefits (05.20.15)
Op-ed: A tale of two Measure Rs (05.16.15)
Op-ed: Berkeley deserves better than 2211 Harold Way (05.11.15)
Council says affordable housing, union labor should be priority community benefits (05.07.15)
Berkeley looks at public art fee for private developers (04.17.15)
Berkeley officials seek feedback on ‘community benefits’ (04.14.15)
Berkeley council on community benefits, sewer fees, vaccines, parking permit expansion (04.07.15)
View from UC Berkeley Campanile will not be landmarked (04.06.15)
Developer of downtown Berkeley hotel offers ‘tapered’ tower; hopes for quick design review (02.18.15)
New 16-story downtown condo/hotel project to appeal to empty nesters, visiting professors (02.06.15)
Berkeley Zoning Board considers community benefits of proposed downtown high-rise (01.12.15)
Locals question Berkeley Plaza impact on theater, view (11.18.14)
New hotel project is a go again after defeat of Measure R (11.06.14)
High-rise developer in Berkeley to use 100% union labor (10.31.14)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...