It still could be years before Fullerton’s historic Fox Theatre opens its doors, even though the City Council has given staff direction to build a parking structure behind the theater which would fulfill a decades-old restriction that prevents the theater from opening.

The proposed parking garage would comply with a 26-year-old agreement between the dissolved Fullerton Redevelopment Agency and Angelo’s and Vinci’s restaurant that stipulates the city must build a minimum 200-spot parking garage before the theater can open, according to the 1991 agreement. The parking lot behind the Fox and the restaurant currently holds approximately 110 cars.

“I think, at the heart of this, it’s a parking structure that’s needed. We needed to focus on a parking structure and really deliver the best parking structure we can under the terms of the agreement we have. If we can add some additional parking, I think we’re under an obligation to do that,” Councilman Greg Sebourn said during the council’s Aug. 29 meeting.

Planning Commissioner Ryan Cantor said the commission didn’t know about the 1991 agreement when it studied parking issues raised by the potential re-opening of the downtown Fullerton theater.

“It’s kind of like a quiet agreement. That should’ve been in the presentation yesterday,” said Cantor in an Aug. 30 telephone interview. The Planning Commission was at the council meeting to  study different development options alongside the council.

The theater was built by C. Stanley Chapman in 1925 for vaudeville and silent movie performances and was soon acquired by Fox Movie Studios and renamed the Fox Theatre. It closed in 1987 and was slated for demolition in 2004, until it was saved by the Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation. Chapman was the son of Fullerton’s first mayor, Charles Chapman.

At the Aug. 29 study session, Pelican Communities Division Manager Dick Hamm unveiled four separate development ideas for the Fox Theatre area. Each plan contains a minimum 200-spot parking garage on the Ellis Lot, behind the theatre and restaurant on Harbor Boulevard and Chapman Avenue. Pelican was hired by the city in June 2016 to advise on the best way to handle the parking issues. Parking in downtown Fullerton, like several other north Orange County cities, is a major issue.

The majority of the council and Planning Commission expressed interest in going with two of the plans. While the first idea, plan A, is to build the parking garage only and improve the Fox Theatre alleyway, plan B includes selling off and developing two other parking lots downtown, known as the Pomona and Triangle lots.

The quickest option would be plan A, building only the parking garage, said Hamm in an Aug, 30 phone interview.

“Theoretically we could be starting construction in 12 months. If they (the council) pick the first option, then it could go relatively quickly,” Hamm said. “If on the other hand, the council decides to do something more complicated … it would take more time.”

Hamm said there’s no definite timeframe as he and staff still need more direction from the council.

Fullerton Planning Manager Matt Foulkes, who has been working with Hamm and Pelican Communities, said the development proposals should come back before the council in October.  

There’s $6.2 million of old redevelopment money that’s earmarked for the parking garage, which is estimated to cost $7.2 million. Plan B’s sale and development of the city-owned Pomona and Triangle lots would offset the $1 million shortfall the city is facing, Hamm said.

The Pomona lot, which sits on Chapman and Pomona Avenues, has a two-story development proposal of either office space or a mixed-use development which could include retail, office and residential space.

The Triangle lot on Harbor Boulevard and Ellis Place has a development proposal that includes parking and retail on the first floor, office on the second and a rooftop deck and nine apartments on the third floor.

Pelican Communities would buy the properties from the city and develop them if the council moves in that direction.

However, Mayor Bruce Whitaker, echoing some of Sebourn’s sentiment, said the city shouldn’t be in the development business.  

“What we’re really trying to do is meet that contractual agreement for parking,” Whitaker said, suggesting development of the Pomona and Triangle lots could be done separately, if at all. “Something, again, I think is best done by the private sector and not by a municipality trying to impose its vision on these spaces.”

Whitaker added he sometimes sees city councils engage in land development and “all of us could get up here and satisfy ourselves by being land developers with other people’s money. That literally was what redevelopment was. So this seems to be a carryforward — to me — of that itch that redevelopment was and now it can’t be scratched.”

Mayor Pro Tem Doug Chaffee also said the development of the other lots could be done separately and said the focus should be on the Fox Theatre.

“Obviously the focus needs to be in someway enhancing the theater and the possibility of it eventually coming alive,”

Foulkes, heeded the direction given by the council and said staff is only looking at plans A and B. The other plans, which would have required the purchase Angelo’s and Vinci’s restaurant, are off the table now.

“The council’s interested, definitely, in (plan A) and in learning more about (plan B),” Foulkes said.  

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