PLEASANT HILL -- If the developer won't spare the domed movie theater in Pleasant Hill from the wrecking ball, fans want a new venue that shows independent films.
Although speakers at the Planning Commission meeting Tuesday split on whether the theater is an iconic landmark or a rundown relic, they found common ground in wanting art-house fare -- not just action blockbusters -- to remain available in Pleasant Hill.
"I challenge you to find a way to send this project back to the developer, to tell them we want a theater, not another sporting goods store," said Pleasant Hill resident Susan Fuller.
At the planning commissioners' behest, SyWest Development President Bill Vierra said the company will take a look at incorporating a small theater in the project, but he added that he's not sure how it would work.
"I think the best solution is to consolidate the arts venue into the existing (Century) 16," Vierra said.
Cinemark Theatres operates the dome theater, formally known as the CinéArts at Pleasant Hill, and the Century 16 Downtown theater on the other side of Interstate 680. The company hasn't said whether it plans to continue showing independent films in Pleasant Hill. However, a group is exploring the possibility of screening such films at a venue somewhere else in the city, according to Councilman Jack Weir.
SyWest is moving ahead with long-delayed plans to redevelop the southern half of the Crossroads Shopping Center. The planning commissioners reviewed the company's proposal to demolish the landmark movie theater and replace it with a two-story, 73,176-square-foot Dick's Sporting Goods store. SyWest also plans to renovate the adjacent 21,788-square-foot building that housed the Bally Total Fitness Gym. Although some residents hope SyWest will fill the space with small specialty shops and restaurants, Vierra said the company plans to lease the entire building to a single retailer. Construction could begin this summer, he said.
The planning commissioners must approve the project's proposed building design, parking, signage and landscaping. They questioned SyWest's request for a larger sign for Dick's Sporting Goods than the one on the Kohl's in the northern half of the shopping center; the landscaping plan and pedestrian amenities. The commission will revisit the project at its March 26 meeting.
Vierra said he has received many emails decrying the loss of the dome theater, which evokes memories of first dates or first viewings of classic films.
"We understand there's a good deal of sentiment attached to the property," he said.
But his empathy didn't impress the critics, and plans to include a mural of the movie theater and mimic the dome's shape in decorative arches spanning a breezeway drew derisive laughter from the audience.
Although Pleasant Hill is dependent on sales tax revenue, several speakers criticized city leaders for trying to lure national retailers. Susan Dupuis of Pleasant Hill said the SyWest project is the latest example of the focus on growth trumping the city's celebrated small-town character.
"I oppose the sacrifice of the dome to the deity of development and promise of progress," Dupuis said.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.