A Woodland Redevelopment Agency Request For Proposals (RFP) regarding a new downtown theater complex was the subject of a Status Report for the City Council (serving as Agency Directors) on its agenda for October 5.

This Status Report details not only objective contours of this consideration process. It also reflects alarming predispositions both introduced within a key city planning document and perhaps existing among the city council subcommittee delegated with managing this RFP: Vice-mayor Skip Davies and Councilmember Martie Dote.

Fashioning this RFP on the flawed basis of the 2003 version of the Downtown Specific Plan (2003 DSP) (- Please see:  Petrovich Imperils Historic State Theatre Project  &  Movieplex Muddle Displays Disordered, Subverted Downtown Planning Goals, Glaring Conflicts -), has resulted in a deliberation process slanted and skewed to favor Paul Petrovich’s “Cinema Square” Project over Ron Caceres’ “State Theatre Renovation and Expansion” Project.

Flawed planning premises, related to a — yet officially undeclared but pivotal notion of establishing an: “entertainment district” within the downtown area — among other things, are thus readily apparent within the Agency’s RFP Status Report on this topic.

These two project opportunities are both relevantly described within the 2003 DSP. However, the “Cinema Square” Project is given: “Priority” status for reasons which quite astonishingly — don’t (explicitly) appear within this document. Implied reasons for this designation portray an enormously interesting civic circumstance, a central subject of this column.

“Priority” status serves in concert with the concept of “entertainment district” to undermine and subvert prior community planning commitments / opportunities of the original (1993) DSP toward restoring the Art Deco era State Theatre.

____  Divide And Conquer  ____

The 2003 DSP abruptly devises a curious (and suspicious) division within the downtown corridor (generally conceived as: Main St., from East to Cleveland / Walnut Sts.), with an: “entertainment district” suddenly proposed / unofficially designated to exist: only in close proximity to already restored Woodland Opera House (WOH) and Petrovich’s “Cinema Square” — or else — only in close proximity to the State Theatre.

Designation of such an “entertainment district” as being just one-half of the practically relevant downtown area — roughly only six blocks long in total — is gravely suspect. 

Although this proposed designation has never been officially adopted, its (adverse) influence is currently exercising effective planning authority within pivotal dynamics of municipal policymaking.

This proposed designation seems a crafty device, a policymaking ploy, an underlying premise designed to somehow rationalize fragmenting the downtown area.

Politically, from Petrovich’s perspective, introducing such an unofficial planning gambit / opportunity within the 2003 DSP makes great practical sense.

If property owners nearby his proposed project were to support such an obviously narrowed and self-interested focus, the questionable planning premise of cleaving-off the western half of downtown from this purported “entertainment district” designation might still obtain political traction. 

Plainly, by some means of instigation this disputable (but apparently, near undisputed in the official record) idea of adopting a shrunken-in-half downtown “entertainment district” became a “Priority” of the 2003 DSP.

Clearly, many interested property owners and existing businesses presently exist within the vicinity of Petrovich’s proposed “Cinema Square,” while only a flooring company and Elm Ford are now operating businesses within the Elm to Walnut block of Main Street. 

While it is possible that Hoblit Chrysler-Dodge will soon — temporarily — relocate to this block (- Please see:  Hoblit: “I Want To Keep My Woodland Dealership — But Petrovich Has A Gun To My Head!” -), Dave Hoblit and Buzz Landis will likely not be strongly advocating as proximate business / property owners for an official designation of — “entertainment district” — to include them and State Theatre.

In contrast, the many businesses and interested property owners existing in relatively close proximity to Petrovich’s “Cinema Square” Project may become inclined to politically participate in this RFP process.

Plus, this subversive planning premise becomes superficially persuasive by the sheer fact that the only — “entertainment district” — related resource west of Elm Street is: State Theatre — a once proud and splendid but now emasculated, vacant and dilapidated island of Woodland’s historical culture within a distressing sea of modern urban blight.

____  Imbalanced “Benefits” & False Choices  ____

A new “entertainment district” proposed for nearby “Cinema Square”  –with: “tremendous potential to serve as a key to using the Downtown as a social / entertainment center” — would focus upon this Project and WOH: “providing a great concentration to support nighttime operations for restaurants and shops in the Downtown. These complementary uses would be attracted to this area of Main Street and add to the Downtown’s nightlife.”

A new “entertainment district,” on the other hand, proposed for “State Theater Renovation and Expansion” is, interestingly, not mentioned at all in the 2003 DSP except within a general list of “Benefits” (analyzed further below) attaching respectively to both project opportunities. 

“Would establish this area [either nearby “Cinema Square” or nearby State Theatre] as the entertainment district in the community[,]” is thus twice listed as a described potential — “Benefit” — within the 2003 DSP.

However, it is only actually presented and discussed in conjunction (quoted above) with “Cinema Square.”

Does the 2003 DSP’s purported idea (supposed benefit of project opportunity) of designating an: “entertainment district” — adjacent to State Theatre in this context — even make any (planning) sense at all?

Within the DSP’s Land Use and Development section, State Theatre is described as being: “isolated from the Downtown core, effectively precluding a pedestrian connection.”

No good basis here, admittedly, for such a profound designation.

Would Woodland ever create an “entertainment district [  ] isolated from the downtown core, effectively precluding a pedestrian connection?”

Unbelievably, the 2003 DSP both offers this supposed planning project opportunity / “benefit,” and also: “preclud[es]” it, while also incoherently assuming that State Theatre could somehow anchor a downtown “entertainment district” — that excludes Woodland Opera House.

Such a glaring conflict is not inevitable, but rather the result of inherently contradictory dynamics of policymaking — spawned through some bad-faith behavior within city hall during the initial years of this century.

Bluntly, of course, the downtown area only adjacent to State Theatre (excluding WOH, for example) could never become designated Woodland’s: “entertainment district.”

With an effort by the 2003 DSP to appear even-handed, of course, the notion of an “entertainment district” had to be suggested for State Theatre — even though it was nonsensical — as well as Petrovich’s “Cinema Square”.

This utter pretense and false choice appears an effort to distract from the basic question: Why designate an “entertainment district” at all in a downtown of this manageable size?

The entire downtown should be / become Woodland’s: “entertainment district.”

But to the expected question: Why create a special “entertainment district” related to “Cinema Square?” — there’s now the rhetorical 2003 DSP response: What, do you want it related to State Theatre? [for which an odd jumble of alternative (re-)uses are suggested, including an art gallery, and so forth].”

This patently false choice / serviceable hoax about State Theatre becoming such a — self-contradictory — “entertainment district,” being included within the 2003 DSP, represents / reflects the obtuse nature of deleterious influence recently wielded by Petrovich over City of Woodland.

The second false choice is that such a distinction as “entertainment district” has authentic — legitimate — meaning within the context of Woodland’s downtown area.

Based on such preposterous planning pretexts / subtexts and ruses, Petrovich seemingly hopes to prevail over common sense and community interests.

____  “Benefits” List Reveals Pretext For “Priority” Status  ____

Differences between lists of “Benefits” respectively associated with the two theater complex proposals may provide some understanding of the nature of policy underlying 2003 DSP: “Prioritization” of Petrovich’s “Cinema Square” Project.

“Benefits” of both project opportunities are stated to include: “Enhances Downtown night life,” and: “The concentration of users in this location will have positive economic affects on nearby businesses, and would help attract new businesses into the area.” 

Already noted above is DSP reference to an: “entertainment district” being “establish[ed],” perhaps — de facto — through selection of one project opportunity or the other.

Of course, this idea is also explicitly recognized in the 2003 DSP as effectively “preclud[ed]” / virtually inapplicable to the case of State Theatre.

Worth noting in terms of its impact on these considerations is the fact that Woodland is now operating on the basis of — an officially outdated version of the DSP — which is due to be renewed / revised every five years — for good reasons. 

One example of such good reasons is that northern side of Main Street between Elm and Walnut Streets — directly across from State Theatre — is now available for redevelopment, one auto dealer mentioned in the 2003 DSP having relocated. This situation bolsters the concept that eventually a genuine anchor and western gateway to the downtown area — featuring State Theatre — might become feasible at Main and Walnut Streets. 

Strangely, however, it appears that Petrovich is effectively forcing another auto dealer into relocating at this very property — on a temporary basis (- Please see:  Hoblit: “I Want To Keep My Woodland Dealership — But Petrovich Has A Gun To My Head!” -).

The distinctive “Benefit” connected to the project opportunity of State Theater Renovation and Expansion” is: “Compliments the existing theater and brings people to the downtown.”

Distinctive “Benefits” of the “Cinema Square” project opportunity: “Compliments surrounding businesses and stimulates the development of new businesses;” as well as: “Better integration with the rest of the Downtown.” 

This latter “Benefit” is the decisive analytical pretext / subtext for promoting 2003 DSP’s implicit / explicit notion of differentially treating major portions of the downtown area — as supposedly being inside / outside some notion of a primary downtown area, its so-called: “center, heart or core.” 

Fragmenting the downtown in this manner, a supposed “Benefit” — is certainly a benefit for Petrovich — for it implicitly provides the purported planning basis for designating his “Cinema Square” Project a “Priority” within the 2003 DSP. 

____  RFP Status Report & 2003 DSP  ____

“The purpose of the RFP was to solicit development proposals that would, as quoted in the RFP: ‘result in the design and development of a new multiplex theater that will re-energize and invigorate the center core of the historic downtown,’” reads its Status Report.

Later in its Status Report, associated with discussion of the locations of the two projects, is stated:

“At the Petrovich project site[,] there is currently more nearby retail, dining, and pedestrian activity. The project is within the scope of the historic district and in close proximity to existing restaurants and other retail outlets as well as vacant space that is ready to be occupied if demand or customer base increase. This project appears to more directly address the Redevelopment Agency goal as stated in the RFP — to attract a modern Cineplex to the heart of the downtown to act as a catalyst for further activity and investment in downtown.”

With some redundancy (textual padding interestingly over-emphasizing this aspect), the Status Report here reiterates the 2003 DSP’s: “Better integration with the rest of the Downtown” theme, along with its: “Compliments surrounding businesses and stimulates the development of new businesses” nature of “Benefit.” 

Of course, this fuzzy and bizarre notion of — “integration” — is one of sheer and utter perspective. 

Just as easily, it could be stated (accurately, in this case) that optimum — “integration” — within the downtown area would certainly result from “prioritizing” the direct alternative — project opportunity — which restores and viably expands a prominently existing historical feature in Woodland’s downtown area, such as State Theatre.

As well, one wonders: How do various merchants and businesses within the relevantly — excluded — western portion of the downtown area feel about such a dubious and divisive scheme of “[b]etter integration?”

This pivotal difference in planning perspective involves questions of the basic scope and fabric (- and historical authenticity -) of Woodland’s downtown area — as well as of the integrity of its political / planning style.

____  An RFP Leg-Up From Foreclosure And Infeasibility?  ____

“The [State Theatre] project is not as close to the central downtown core and currently there is less activity here [what an understatement!],” observes the RFP Status Report.

The Status Report continues, suggesting that this project: “may act as a catalyst for needed restaurant and retail growth around the theater which could have a positive impact on [a project now in foreclosure, across the street],” which is only feasible for heavily subsidized and specifically targeted “affordable housing” — until: the economy significantly recovers, ample credit becomes available and strong housing demand returns.

In other words — no time soon.

Thus, such a “cataly[tic]” relationship is not likely to become a very positive feature of consideration within this RFP process regarding Caceres’ State Theatre Project.

____  History And Histrionics  ____

Preposterously — but yet another clear indication of the slyly slanted playing-field of this RFP — is the absurdly insincere statement that: “Both locations could potentially have a positive impact on the preservation of historic structures.”

This is a genuinely breathtaking comment / view, seemingly concocted as a result of misdirection and prevarication.

Such comment seems almost Shakespearean in its shrewdness.

“[A]dditional activity and resultant investment [from “Cinema Square’] could help attract business users for the currently vacant or underutilized historic buildings,” impresses the Status Report, as if there are historical buildings presently at any risk of demolishment in this neighborhood — other than the Electric Garage Building — which has consistently served as an auto dealership since motorized vehicles began moving into this county a century ago.

The Status Report then easily writes-off the flatly contradictory, non- (perhaps, anti-) preservation reality that Petrovich’s project would demolish this historical building: “There is less support for saving and reusing that structure though some citizens would prefer that it not be demolished.” explains the Status Report, which continues by insisting that a relevant consultant has: “determined that it was the use of the building and not its architecture that made the site a contributor to the Historic District designation.”

Well, although the architecture of Electric Garage may be of a relatively crude: “industrial design,” according to the 2003 DSP; that architecture remains of historical interest to contemporary persons as a good example of that particular style of design, which has existed directly alongside the immense and grand Odd Fellows Building, etc., for a hundred years.

That’s simply pure Woodland history — which is flagrantly and suspiciously ignored by the 2003 DSP — perhaps in an effort to best advantage Petrovich’s “Cinema Square” Project.

Now, as these affairs proceed in this RFP, we learn that only Electric Garage’s: “use” and “not [its] architecture,” is deemed by a consultant to really matter, so this building can confidently be demolished.

Historical ambiance is more than architectural splendor and ornate styles.

Historical integrity manifests itself by the lived experience of authentically historical space — perhaps especially if it is of “industrial design” right next door to ‘majestic design.’ 

Such an essential contrast of styles is intrinsically of Woodland’s historical character (similarly is State Theatre).

The 2003 DSP even seems to be entirely oblivious to the quite historical nature of this building, and its historical: “industrial design,” erroneously exclaiming that: “[I]t is a noticeable change from the historic Downtown” — with the implied premise being: ‘So, then let’s allow Petrovich to tear it down and build a theater complex.’

“[M]itigation measures [may] document the significance of the site without the need to preserve the building;” however, it is not really the documenting of such a site that is actually of significance.

“Significan[t]” may be the prospect of redevelopment of this ancient garage into valuable retail and pedestrian space, as have many other communities; or else, at least it should be sacrificed for more than an awkward, poorly-planned redundancy, also likely dooming its younger cousin, State Theatre.

Neither the 2003 DSP nor the RFP and its Status Report properly address or even explicitly recognize the more than obvious threat to — “preservation” — of historical State Theatre — directly posed by Petrovich’s “Cinema Square” Project. 

This glaring fact speaks volumes about the stunning insincerity of contending that: “Both locations could potentially have a positive impact on the preservation of historic structures.”

Such a load will surely break a camel’s back.

“Significan[t]” is the durable fact that for a century this “industrial design” building functioned and flourished day by day, decade after decade, alongside more fabulous architectural treasures — and that the living experience of this stark contrast of style — of wholly historical quality — cannot ever be obtained by a commemorative photograph tucked into a modest shrine in a crevice of a modern cinema complex.

____  Further Subtextual Indications Of Status Report  ____

Discussion of the State Theatre Project in the RFP Status Report reveals some interesting items for scrutiny, identifying the local grass-roots campaign to preserve it.

“It is very apparent that the preservation of the State Theatre [ — ] in some manner [ — ] is consistent with community values that support the historical culture of Woodland,” admits the Status Report, which continues, “[This] support has had a significant impact on the selection subcommittee.”

In other words (even prior to the Oct. 5 council meeting featuring several hours of agenda time and copious public testimony on this topic), this local grass-roots campaign and associated development proposal to restore State Theatre has surprisingly interrupted — well assumed — even predetermined — inertia toward Petrovich’s proposal which the RFP / 2003 DSP processes were intent on sustaining.

On the plain face of affairs, it’s more than unclear just how: “State Theater Renovation and Expansion” Project — at the western edge of downtown, “isolated and preclud[ed]” from pedestrian access — was ever going to satisfy an RFP based on 2003 DSP “prioritization” of Petrovich’s project on the basis of its purported “integration” into a “downtown central core,” etc.

“[Petrovich’s] project appears to more directly address the Redevelopment Agency goal as stated in the RFP — to attract a modern Cineplex to the heart of the downtown,” argues its Status Report.

It is only: “preservation of the State Theatre [ — ] in some manner [ — ]” that was the bedrock message being received prior to the city council meeting of October 5.

At that meeting, Caceres’ State Theatre Project gained important momentum with Councilmember Jeff Monroe already indicating his preference in a forthright manner.

Another seemingly pertinent category of RFP consideration: “Design and land use planning skills. Experience in developing downtown places or projects” — appears to unfairly favor Petrovich’s theater operator, which has extensive project experience in “downtown places[: with] a proven track record [among other itemized matters] of accomplishment as the operator of twelve successful theaters[,] most of them in downtown areas.”

While: “The majority of [the alternative theater operator’s] theatres appear to be located in shopping areas adjacent to/or close to highways.”

Apparently, Petrovich’s operator has a big leg-up for ranking in this perhaps largely irrelevant RFP category of consideration — which may become unreasonably wielded.

____  A Key RFP Consideration Factor: Site Control  ____

“Regarding [all important] site control,” announces the Status Report, “the selection subcommittee recognizes two differences between the competing proposals. [Petrovich] has site control; [Caceres] does not.

“From a business and financial feasibility standpoint, site control is a critical element in the evaluation of the proposals.”

Essentially, this statement addresses the condition of Chase (-Morgan) Bank having recently purchased the large parcel west of State Theatre, which was — clearly highlighted within the 2003 DSP — as crucial to prospects for renovating and expanding this facility. 

Caceres and associates are now pursuing an agreement with Chase Bank to resolve this conflict — at the same time that Chase Bank is moving forward through a Design Review process of municipal planning.

Oddly, the Status Report criticizes a potential modification of Caceres’ proposal that would resolve this problem by locating the expanded movie-multiplex space behind State Theatre.

“The larger problem with the construction of the additional screens behind [State Theatre] is that this portion of the theater would be oriented away from Main Street. This would dilute the theater’s visual impact on the City’s primary thoroughfare.” 

In actuality, movie screening rooms themselves are like parking lots, not especially downtown-display oriented (while more visually accessible uses would appear preferential).

Finding fault with this potential composition — while at the same time allowing Chase Bank to squat yet another cookie-cutter style of financial outlet within this very (western gateway of downtown) zone — deserves paramount scrutiny. 

Already, various banks occupy all but one of the four corners of — the intersection officially recognized — as the western gateway to Woodland’s downtown area: Main and Cleveland Streets.

Now — Chase Bank wants to rudely eclipse decades-long planning goals of the DSP, by further eroding and disrupting the restorable, historical character of our downtown.

The RFP Status Report is strangely, sorely troubled by challenges of a uniquely configured theater complex — directly resulting from the utter disaster — of having Chase Bank suddenly intrude upon another of the too often toothless planning goals of the DSP.

This particular situation, on the other hand, could easily become a mission for eminent domain. 

In fact, the optimum resolution of this critical matter is for Woodland Redevelopment Agency to suitably and swiftly arrange for Chase Bank to acquire and (re)develop as another (“full-service”) bank — the only corner still available at Main and Cleveland Streets.

This location was Chase Bank’s — initial choice — but it ran into precisely the kind of obtuse, property-related difficulties which redevelopment authority is innately designed and intended to cure.

Let the banks have all of this other intersection!

They can play finance together on Cleveland Street and provide cash that persons will then carry into our downtown area — not the “central core” or “heart” of our downtown — but into all of our historically un-fragmented downtown “entertainment district.”

State Theatre, in a restored and expanded fashion at Walnut Street, would then well provide Woodland with the initial leg of its western gateway to downtown.

Woodland Redevelopment Agency should immediately busy itself with ensuring that this community’s deeply expressed desires regarding State Theatre are not unhinged by failure to accomplish what obviously amounts to a primary goal of its mission.