News - April 28, 2010

Office space may be next plan for Park Theatre

by Sean Howell

The Park Theater in Menlo Park has been vacant for going on eight years, but owner Howard Crittenden hasn't stopped looking for new tenants.

At the April 20 City Council meeting, Mr. Crittenden spoke to keep the council in the loop on his latest attempt to find a new use for the building, saying he has spent about a year developing a plan to convert the theater to a commercial use.

The planning firm working for Mr. Crittenden has told him that converting the theater to office space would be a better investment than making way for a retail tenant, but that even then the deal probably would not be profitable to an investor after the economy recovers, Mr. Crittenden said. He said he plans to test that assessment by presenting the plans to commercial real estate brokers.

"At this moment I don't have an answer" on whether the plan would work, he said. "Hopefully soon I will."

Mr. Crittenden said he believed the plans would maintain the building's character and would not trigger a historical assessment under state law.

The theater, on El Camino Real between Valparaiso and Oak Grove avenues, has been empty since Mr. Crittenden evicted Landmark Theatres in 2002, saying the company was unable to pay the "market rent." Finding a new tenant has been an ongoing concern for both Mr. Crittenden and the city, with council members generally unwilling to commit public funds to the site.

A proposal for the city to subsidize restoring the theater to a movie-house operation didn't work out. Neither did a proposal for the city to subsidize the operation of a dance studio. At one point Mr. Crittenden applied for a demolition permit, but withdrew it shortly thereafter, according to Community Development Director Arlinda Heineck.


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