Fullerton’s historic Fox Theater is one step closer to reopening its doors because the city will build a parking garage, fulfilling a 26-year-old agreement that has prevented the theater from opening.
The 1991 agreement between Angelo’s and Vinci’s restaurant and the dissolved Fullerton Redevelopment Agency stipulated the city would build a minimum 200-spot parking garage before the Fox Theater opens its doors.
“We can finally, after almost three decades, fulfill the contractual agreement with Angelo Vinci’s,” Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald said at the Dec. 5 Council meeting, adding the parking garage isn’t the only obstacle the theater has faced. “There has been a lot of obstacles the city has put in the way … with moving ahead with the theater restoration.”
There was some disagreement on the council about which plan it would approve. One plan called for building only a 300-spot parking garage, while the second plan called for the parking garage, plus an office building and some mixed use development on nearby city-owned lots.
The Council voted 3-2 for the second plan, with Councilman Bruce Whitaker and Mayor Pro Tem Greg Sebourn dissenting.
The Fox Theater was built in 1925 as part of the chain of Fox Theatres, and closed in 1987. It originally was a combination vaudeville and silent movie theater.
Earlier in the meeting, the council elected Doug Chaffee as its new mayor and picked Sebourn as mayor pro tem. Chaffee’s on the last leg of his term which ends next year and has repeatedly said he’s not running for reelection.
Sebourn wanted to build only the parking structure and sell two other lots near the Fox “as is — put it out on the market and sell them — not put any entitlements on them.”
Whitaker also liked that idea.
“There’s nothing like just a free market transaction to sell those properties to make sure the city receives a fair market value,” he said.
Under the plan approved by the city council, the parking garage will be built on the current parking lot behind the Fox Theater. The Pomona lot, which sits on Chapman and Pomona Avenues, on the same block as the Fox, could have a 48,000 square foot, four-story office building built on it. If negotiations with a potential tenant fail, the property could be become a mixed-use retail, office and residential development.
Additionally, the Triangle lot on Harbor Boulevard and Ellis Place, next to the restaurant and theater, will have a two to three-story mixed-use development with shops on the ground floor and upper floors would be office and residential, according to the staff report.
There was some pushback about the additional developments from some residents.
“A parking lot is what’s required under the terms … I think everything else here is not only unnecessary, it’s adding a further delay to the project (of reopening the theater),” Sean Paden said, who staunchly objected to the office development. “We are not landlords. We should be getting out of the landlord business, not getting into it.”
However, resident and Transportation and Circulation Committee member, Elizabeth Hansburg, said the development would help bring additional business to downtown Fullerton. She also said it can help provide much needed housing for the city.
“We can’t subsidize our way out of this (housing shortage) problem, we have to build our way out,” Hansburg said.
There’s $6.2 million earmarked for the parking garage that the state is holding after the redevelopment agency dissolved. If the city doesn’t move forward with a parking garage, the state will take the money, according to the staff report. The city will need an additional $3 million to complete the structure.
The staff report said additional funding options still are being explored, including a potential loan from the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank.
Some residents were concerned about potential loans or bonds.
“I would just beg you do not take out a loan, do not issue bonds. This city cannot afford any more debt to pay for parking of all things. We’re already in very bad shape financially … I just cannot fathom taking on more debt and digging a bigger hole for us to fall into,” David Curlee said.
“There’s absolutely no way this city should be going any farther in debt than we’re required to,” Paden said.
According to the City’s 2017-2018 budget, total revenues are $183.1 million while the total expenditures — including operating and capital improvement expenditures — are $190.9 million.
However, the City Council hasn’t adopted a financing plan for the project yet.
Curlee also asked if the 1991 agreement would be satisfied if the City ended an agreement with Fullerton Community College at the nearby Plummer parking structure and opened it up for Angelo’s and Vinci’s and surrounding businesses.
“To me, that would be the easiest way out of this, if it were allowable,” he said.
But Acting Deputy Director of Community Development Matt Foulkes said the move wouldn’t fulfill the legal obligations in the agreement.
“We looked at that long and hard — we checked with our legal staff and the short answer is no,” Foulkes said. He added that the agreement specifies the land parcel it must be built on, which is on the 115-car parking lot behind the Fox Theater and the restaurant.
Fitzgerald said the project will help pave the way for similar downtown projects to be built that will help draw new businesses downtown.
“You look at things that are able to be a catalyst project for the city and I think this option … gives us the ability to do that,” she said, adding it will help bring newfound daytime business to downtown. “We need to diversify our portfolio downtown to make it a real downtown.”
Over the years, residents have long complained that there’s too many bars and nightclubs in downtown.
Meanwhile, Chaffee echoed Fitzgerald’s thoughts and said the development will help attract more daytime businesses.
“If we built an office structure, I think that’s badly needed in downtown. It brings people to a daytime business that adds to vitality,” Chaffee said.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.