A fascinating and important new civic drama has suddenly erupted alongside the already intriguing saga of where and how to best locate a key feature of Woodland’s downtown area: a movie-theater complex.

Machinations of recent downtown developmental dynamics have placed in dire jeopardy a stable pillar of community business.

“I’m not going to operate here at this location past December,” announces Dave Hoblit, an owner of the Hoblit auto dealership, for many years a solid fixture of downtown Woodland in the historical building once occupied by Electric Garage on Main Street and Third to Fourth Street.

____  Electric Garage Into Movie Multiplex?  ____ 

The Electric Garage Building was purchased several years ago for about $260,000 (according to Hoblit) by Sacramento-based developer Paul Petrovich with an expectation of soon demolishing it and developing this site into a theater complex, on the basis of a 2003 amendment to the original (1993) Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) designating that specific site for such a use by reason of its arguable proximity to a potential parking structure that has never materialized.

Woodland Redevelopment Agency on May 5 issued a formal: Request For Proposals (RFP) for development of a new movie-theater complex within the downtown area. Two proposals were responsive, one by Petrovich and the other by local developer Ron Caceres and associates to redevelop and restore the historic State Theater on Main just east of Walnut Street.

This redevelopment-wrangled contest pits Petrovich’s project in the eastern portion of downtown against the original DSP goal: renovating and expanding the historic State Theater at the general location of yet another original DSP goal: establishment of a unique western “gateway” to Woodland’s downtown area.

This “primary gateway” on the western approach into Woodland is now itself in serious and immediate jeopardy, of becoming a one-story, cookie-cutter, strip-mall bank in a minor sea of asphalt (Chase Bank is presently active through city planning process to construct it), rather than being realized by means of achieving a benchmark expression of complementing downtown revitalization goals regarding this Art Deco era edifice.

____  Hoblit Feels Like: “A Pawn Between A King And Queen”  ____

Hoblit believes he’s become a pawn being squeezed between two much more powerful pieces playing upon Woodland’s political chess board.

“I’m caught up in the middle of these forces. When [Petrovich] wants the city to do something — he hurts me,” complains Hoblit, recalling how, when a proposal suddenly surfaced a few years ago to construct a movie-theater complex on the block which will now contain the new Yolo County Courthouse, Petrovich quickly issued the auto dealership a thirty-day notice of eviction, eventually rescinded.

Hoblit is now operating on a month-to-month tenancy with Petrovich, “because things are so volatile. We shook on it and agreed that we wouldn’t hurt each other.”

But then two months ago, in August, Petrovich abruptly doubled Hoblit’s rent — from $5500 to $10,000 per month. Hoblit indicates he diligently tried to continue paying the lower rate, resulting in his receipt of a three-day eviction notice from Petrovich.

____  Hoblit’s Various Options  ____

Hoblit relates that his spacious (over 3 acre) and modern dealership in Colusa only costs $7000 per month — adding that one of his considered options is to soon consolidate these two dealerships at that location, resulting in twenty or more lost jobs in Woodland, as well as loss to the City of $300,000 or more of annual sales tax revenue.

Hoblit indicates that the large automobile / truck corporation, through which he franchises distribution, would happily help him construct a brand new facility somewhere in or near Woodland, during several years of essential consolidation of this dealership with the one in Colusa.

Breaking apart his “highly trained and experienced” staff of mechanics and service technicians, though, would be a tremendous regret, says Hoblit.

“Only maybe 15 out of my staff of almost 40 would make that [consolidation] transition up to Colusa.”

Hoblit’s other options include possibly relocating this franchise to Sacramento.

However, he explains at great length that providing products and service to the people of Woodland, in particular, is his true interest and that of his son who has worked at the dealership for eleven years and genuinely wants to continue its local operation.

Their earnest desire is to conduct another generation of this Woodland auto franchise. Anecdotes abound of local folks who Hoblit has managed to satisfy regarding their vehicular needs, from sales to service.

____  “Petrovich Has A Gun To My Head”  ____

“I want to stay in Woodland — but Petrovich has a gun to my head,” declares Hoblit in a figurative fashion, referring to the un-negotiable doubling ($10,000) of monthly rent suddenly demanded by Petrovich, as well as the overall complexion of his commercial tenancy since Petrovich became his landlord.

Hoblit describes that: “About a year and a half ago, the city came to us and said that this theater complex would require our relocation. Cynthia [Shallit] and the other city staff have really done a lot of work, a great job to help us try to find another [permanent] location,” he says, noting specifically help with review and consideration of a large Main Street parcel(s) very near the freeway, “where there’s [an: “available”] yellow sign that’s been up for a long time, since I first came to town.”

But that prospect among others have proved infeasible, Hoblit recounts. And so, various options for retaining this valued auto dealership in Woodland have slowly dwindled.

And now, Hoblit expresses some degree of exhaustion and discomfort from needing to spend so much time and effort continually attempting to fundamentally re-orient his local franchise.

One odd option was actually to request a figure of money that Petrovich would accept in return for his $260,000 investment in the Electric Garage. Hoblit was informed that $2.1 million may be such an amount, almost ten times the relatively recent purchase price, which may rather be expected to suffer a decrease in tough economic times.

$260,000 seems an unusually good price, though, for this particular property. Perhaps some appreciation is due, but  ~1000% seems excessive.

Along their landlord – tenant trail during Petrovich’s tenure, by the way, Hoblit states that he has been solicited by Petrovich to contribute to political campaigns of several Woodland City Council members, but has declined.

____  Petrovich’s Desperate Proposal That Hoblit Refuses  ____

Hoblit explains in detail, within one relocation option, about how “Petrovich and the city now have the cart before the horse,” in potentially destructive ways.

Petrovich planned on opening Gateway II (150 acre addition to the existing 50 acre Gateway shopping center) by 2010 — but now any realistic prospect of this vast new project — requiring an annexation and agreement with the county regarding taxation matters, as well as being the subject of a lengthy critique by Yolo County officials during its recent EIR process — appears to be at least a couple of years off in the distance.

“[Petrovich] now wants me to buy into a relocation deal that has [steadily] declined in value and no longer makes any sense at all,” accuses Hoblit, explaining his decade-long journey from — almost relocating — with the other two major motor-vehicle franchises in Woodland on what is now Petrovich’s Gateway shopping center — through some initially pleasant plans of a slightly delayed relocation at Gateway II — but eventually into what amounts to an indistinctive and undesirable commercial crypt along an un-displayed edge of this significantly delayed project.

This is not at all the sort of retail niche that auto dealers usually crave.

Plus: “Where does he expect me to operate,” exclaims Hoblit, “out in the middle of a vacant field?”

“Petrovich has raised my rent [from $5500 to $10,000 per month] to try to force me to into taking this [very unfavorable and entirely illogical] deal. But that’s not going to happen. In principle, I’m not agreeable to this.”

____  Petrovich Falsifies Matters At City Council Meeting  ____

During a well-attended October 5 regular-meeting, progress-update on these downtown cineplex affairs, Petrovich’s status report to the city council contained several falsehoods regarding circumstances with Hoblit, potentially pushing his already tenuous credibility toward an increasingly precarious posture.

Responding to questions by Councilmember Marble, Petrovich stated that there exists a practical opportunity for Hoblit to accept his offer of somehow relocating within the undeveloped Gateway II area, as described above.

According to Hoblit, though — even if there were a fully developed Gateway II phase available for occupation — Petrovich’s notion of where to specifically station auto dealers is totally unacceptable.

Hoblit strongly emphasizes the utterly ridiculous nature of Petrovich’s seemingly desperate and irrational proposal; while, at the same time quite generously and compassionately recognizing his unique (big-developer) business context and refraining from personally judging him.

“I just have to get away from him,” exclaims Hoblit.

The second element of presumed falsehood expounded by Petrovich before city council, was bold assertion of his good-faith ability to provide Hoblit with security of a flexible lease on agreeable terms pending whatever outcome occurs within ongoing municipal consideration of this topic.

In the wake of employing his recently sharpened spike of demanded rent — prospects seem rather remote / unlikely — of his actually offering Hoblit such decent and favorable treatment, especially since at this city council meeting the odds of him prevailing in this RFP contest significantly dimmed.

Spontaneous and enthusiastic community support has arisen for the civic cause of State Theatre renovation, generating political traction that was palpable during council deliberations.

____  Petrovich’s Motivations?  ____

Now, rational persons might expect that — on the verge of potentially losing his bid to create Woodland’s new cineplex — Petrovich may want to consider forging an interim rental agreement for keeping a reliable tenant in the Electric Garage.

However, by both evidence and anecdote, this doesn’t seem to be the style of Petrovich. 

“He’ll have a — ‘scorched-earth’ approach — to any viability decline for his [cineplex] proposal,” predicts a quite seasoned and knowledgeable source of pertinent information, who requests anonymity.

This dynamic seems already at play within his radically steep raising of Hoblit’s rent, as if there’s no turning back or anterior and available course, thus forcing the city’s hand to produce some form of manner of immediate relocation assistance.

Also, Hoblit indicates that “Paul gets mad and does things,’ in a reactive manner that employs an element of at least potentially constructive strategy and deliberate intent.

This same knowledgeable source of information further explains that — Petrovich’s actual motivation for skyrocketing Hoblit’s rent — is likely quite simple: to drive the auto dealership away — out of the planning picture — so Petrovich would be instantly relieved of responsibilities for its relocation under his development proposal.

This scenario seems plausible because of the August timing of this severe rise of rent swiftly inflicted under threat of moving an eviction process against Hoblit.

Plus, Petrovich (along with several city council members) argued that city council should take its (sweet) time to fully evaluate these RFP matters, as if Hoblit can feasibly absorb such an onerous elevation of rent for any extended duration of time.

It would seem, as well: Petrovich may know or suspect at this point, that — almost — no practical option exists for Hoblit’s relocation within Woodland city limits.

On a formal level, both Petrovich and his relevant attorney were asked at this council meeting by Yolo Sun for a statement as to the reason(s) why Hoblit’s monthly rent was raised from $5500 to $10,000. Petrovich entirely ignored this inquiry and fled the proximity, while his counsel averred that he knew not the reason for this staggering increase.

____  The Only Viable Local Path For Hoblit  ____

Only one viable option now exists, according to Hoblit, for continuing current operation in Woodland. He isn’t yet convinced that the City will allow it, but his desire is to — immediately — and temporarily — occupy the former Chevrolet dealership at 333 Main Street, across from the State Theater and Elm Ford.

This property / facility was commercially abandoned and slated for demolition, etc. — to make way for the former City Center Lofts project — being now in foreclosure proceedings.

Owners of this property have, according to Hoblit, approached the City of Woodland to obtain planning / permitting approval for – temporarily — relocating Hoblit under a lease to their site.

This basic idea is not a new one. It has been a discussed relocation option for some time, but for various reason(s) (among them likely a possible need to make improvements to a structure slated for eventual demolition) not perceived as absolutely and immediately necessary / practical until Petrovich kicked Hoblit’s rent up into the stratosphere.

With an appropriately vehicular analogy, Hoblit describes his dealership’s course as: “Like speeding toward a wall, and sooner or later you’ll hit it. We’re now getting pretty close to that wall.”

Clearly, both Hoblit and this commercially / municipally valuable motor-vehicle dealership require municipal relief of some nature and measure, and relevant planning deliberations are now beginning to occur.

Hoblit would like to arrange “a two or three year lease” on this almost bulldozed building / facility, expressing confidence that its property owners will treat him well, while the larger issue of where to permanently relocate within Woodland is successfully explored.

Hoblit also paints a happy picture of this proposed temporary relocation – across Main Street from Elm Ford.

Hoblit sells and services Chryslers and Dodges.

“Buzzy Landis and I are great friends,” relates Hoblit, “and I can see us having sales-promotion contests, perhaps with radio stations, and really having some great fun with this. I look forward to being able to move into the building across the street from him [at former Chevrolet dealership, 333 Main St.].”

____  City Response  ____

Hoblit indicates that at a recent meeting on this situation, between the city planning department, the relevant property owners and himself, Deputy Community Development Director, Paul Siegel, took a — position of opposition to his occupation of the building — based on the unreinforced masonry (brick) nature of this structure.

“He said that we couldn’t do it, because of [potential] earthquakes, but when was the last time you heard of an earthquake in Woodland?”

Hoblit said that this matter was now being further investigated, but didn’t understand why, if the other dealer was operating there so recently and the land use is exactly the same, the city wouldn’t — temporarily — permit it, once these structural details were examined and best resolved.

Woodland City Manager, Mark Deven, confirms that the City is now pursuing this option in a timely manner. “I am not aware of any other obstacles that would be a problem for the temporary relocation of the Hoblit dealership to the 333 Main Street site with the exception of the structural issues associated with the building,” explains Deven.

“The degree to which the structural issues are an obstacle is being further evaluated. We have asked a structural consultant to take a look at the building; in fact, I think we were trying to get keys to the building today [October 6] for the consultant to look at the site.”

Hopefully, observes Hoblit, his Chrysler / Dodge dealership will soon be (temporarily) operating across Main Street from Elm Ford, . . .and one day in the not too distant future, establish a new and permanent location in Woodland.