For the first time in almost 20 years, downtown Hollywood is one step closer to gaining its own art-house movie theater. And, perhaps, a bit more credibility as an emerging arts hub.
Fort Lauderdale's Cinema Paradiso is adding a second location in Hollywood thanks to the city's Community Redevelopment Agency. On Wednesday morning, the seven-member board voted unanimously to buy 3,000 tickets a year — about $30,000 worth — for 10 years, to help the independent theater open in the downtown district.
"It's a godsend. It's a real game changer," said Lisa Liotta shortly after city commissioners, acting as the CRA board, gave approval to the project. "I think the downtown area in general is again becoming a cool, snazzy place, and the Cinema Paradiso project will be another link in the chain."
The addition of an indie movie theater is indeed part of Hollywood's ongoing effort to turn its downtown area into a major arts-and-entertainment destination, which in recent years has tacked on an ArtsPark, new restaurants, a rock club, a weekly food truck roundup and, a few months ago, an ambitious Young Circle mural project featuring vibrant works from top local artists.
Gregory von Hausch, the executive director of Cinema Paradiso, "optimistically" expects the theater at 2008 Hollywood Blvd., to open by the end of April, but more "realistically" within six months, after renovations to its interior and utilities. In addition to the CRA's money, he said, the theater still needs about $100,000 in donations before it can open.
"We wanted a more-urban art house with parking and dining, and we finally got it," said von Hausch, also the president of the Broward County Film Society. "It's been three long years of work. With the economy the way it is, we didn't think it would be a possibility. We didn't want this to be the Titanic that brought us down."
The 3,000-square-foot cinema, to be sandwiched between Native Florida Tap Room and Music Hall and Melina's Lingerie Shoppe, will house about 100 seats, a concession area with a full-liquor bar and live music some nights. Called Cinema Paradiso-Hollywood, it will take over the high-ceilinged, bay-window-abundant former home of I Am an Artist Cafe, a pottery studio. The art house marks the first time downtown Hollywood has had a movie theater since the old Hollywood Cinema closed in 1996.
Wednesday's $300,000 deal will be funded by property taxes. Each of the 3,000 tickets, will head to 28 Hollywood Beach hotels large and small, including the Westin Diplomat and the Hollywood Beach Marriott. But here's the real star attraction: The tickets will be given free to hotel tourists as an incentive to get them to spend more money downtown.
City leaders said a cinema that steers tourists to local businesses is a project worth backing.
"I've been critical only because it's taxpayers' money," Commissioner Peter Hernandez said before voting in favor of the plan. "But I like the idea."
Hollywood attorney Alan Koslow, the chair of the Broward County Film Society, envisioned a film school opening down the block from Cinema Paradiso-Hollywood and a so-called "Broadwalk of Fame" near the beach where movie stars will receive diamonds instead of stars.
"The stars would get a diamond, and there would be a big unveiling like they do in Hollywood, California," he said outside commission chambers after the vote.
For the first time, von Hausch added, the theater will begin offering regular weekday matinees and more first-run movies, including blockbusters, which was an amenity its Fort Lauderdale location lacked. The problem, he said, was a lack of official parking at the 14-year-old theater, which opened in 1999 in the former Vinnette Carroll Repertory Theater, which in turn was converted from a disused church.
Chris Eberle, president of the Downtown Hollywood Business Association and owner of the Big Easy Bar and Grille, located less than a block from the new Cinema Paradiso, said a new theater will help local restaurants boom.
"In our opinion, it's a no-brainer and a great deal for us," Eberle said. "Business owners don't usually agree with public expenditures on private business, but this is a different animal. A theater was sorely needed."
Staff writer Susannah Bryan contributed to this report.