Because the Rialto is privately owned by the Jebbia Family Trust, it limits the City's ability to intervene with the revitalization, according to Assistant City Manager Sergio Gonzalez.
Not to mention, Landmark Theatres currently holds a 99-year lease on the property. And in April, Mark Cuban put Landmark Theatres up for sale—leaving the status of the Rialto even more uncertain.
"Prices for entertainment properties are up," Cuban told the L.A. Times. "If we don't get the price and premium we want, we are happy to continue to make money from the properties."
So what does that mean for the Rialto? What can the City do to take over this South Pas gem currently closed down and left for decay?
Here's what Gonzalez has to say about the status of the theatre:
1. What are the main obstacles in reviving the Rialto?
There are three biggest obstacles that the Rialto theatre needs to overcome.
1) Money to refurbish. The amount can range from $2 million to $20 million depending on how elaborate the improvement gets.
2) The second is parking. Currently the theatre has no designated parking. If it were to change use, it would have to build/find the parking required by our current parking standards.
3) The big question is: Can the Rialto survive as a single screen theatre? Or would South Pasadena rather it be a live concert venue, a multi-screen theatre or a mix-use building (restaurant/office/retail/residential space)? The question of what to do with the Rialto is the first that needs to be answered.
2. Has the City discussed any initiatives to revive the Rialto?
The City was successful in securing a Federal earmark through Congressman Adam Schiff in the amount of $300,000. The purpose of these funds was to benefit the downtown area and specifically the Rialto. The funds were made available to both the owner and the lease-holder, but both declined to use them due to the fact that the funds would have to be returned should the Rialto be sold. Although it may seem a small amount, the funds would have been enough to keep the theatre open by repairing the roof, some façade improvements and other needed work.
The completed a study called Vision Rialto, which took an in-depth look at possible ways the theatre could reopen. City staff reviewed the report and provided appropriate comments regarding its contents. Also as part of the proposed downtown revitalization project, the City was able to get the former developer Decoma to set aside $250,000 to improve the theatre’s façade.
3. Are there any laws you know of that the City can enact to gain ownership of the building or keep it from further decay? If so, what are the advantages/disadvantages of these laws?
There are several mechanisms available in regards to the Rialto. The first I’ll mentioned—and the one that was used—is Fire Code. We made a determination that the theatre was not safe to occupy due to fire code violations.
The second is declaring it a “Public Nuisance,” which requires Council action. And if the property owner does not comply, the City would be forced to eradicate the nuisance, and put a lean on the property for the costs. This would seem to be a good idea, but if you consider that it would take a couple of million dollars to do so, the City may be stuck with the bill since the property itself may not be worth that amount.
The City also has a cultural landmark maintenance ordinance. This can be used since the Rialto is designated both a local and national landmark. The neglect would not be difficult to prove—determining who is responsible may be a longer process.
4. What about eminent domain?
The City’s ability to take private property has been curtailed tremendously over the years through legislation. There is friendly and unfriendly eminent domain. Both would require purchasing the property at market value for a public purpose. With only a $21 million annual operating budget, I don’t believe the City could afford to take ownership of a theatre that would cost several million dollars to renovate—and more importantly manage and maintain it on an annual basis.
The law prohibits using eminent domain to take/purchase a property for private use. Even the threat of eminent domain significantly affects the value of the property. Both the Community Redevelopment Commission and the Community Redevelopment Agency have pledged to not use or even consider using eminent domain for any property within the footprint of the proposed downtown project.
5. Do you think the could possibly help the Rialto? If so, in what ways?
Apart from dollars, the Rialto would extremely benefit from a revived downtown for several reasons. For one, the proposed project would have parking available in the evenings if the right mix of businesses are assembled. A multi-tenant site with banks, which we know at least two will be in the mix ( and ), do not have a use for parking in the evenings and weekends.
However, the downtown project can also provide synergy: foot/pedestrian traffic where people can go to dine/shop and watch a movie all in the same area. It can become part of a destination for our residents that now travel to Alhambra or Pasadena.
Another advantage is that the Rialto resides within the existing active project area of the Community Redevelopment Agency. It can benefit from the processes and funds available through redevelopment.
Whether it be part of the downtown project or phased in as an independent one, the fact that the CRA can create a public/private partnership to leverage redevelopment funds with private investment is a very good thing for the Rialto. However, cooperation from Landmark and—more importantly—the Jebbia Family Trust is paramount to the Rialto’s survival.
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