DOWNEY — The 90-year-old Avenue Theater building may become a lounge and three restaurants under a conceptual plan approved on a 3-0 vote Nov. 7 by the City Council, sitting as the Community Development Commission and Housing Successor Agency.
The theater has been vacant and unused since 2003.
The action included the sale of the 10,000-square-foot site at 11022 Downey Ave. to Downey Restaurant Group, for $750,000. The group is based at 10840 Paramount Blvd. and headed by Adrian Amosa.
The agency is composed of city council members charged with winding down projects and selling properties of the extinct Redevelopment Agency. Such agencies were abolished by the state in 2012.
Voting were Mayor Alex Saab and Councilmen Sean Ashton and Roger Brossmer. Mayor Pro Tem Fernando Vasquez recused himself as he owns property near the site. Councilman Luis Marquez was absent.
“I believe this is the best way to preserve the building,” Saab said adding that the only alternative would be homes, which he didn’t think would be appropriate for the site.
“I think it’s a great project,” Brossmer said. “I am optimistic that all will go well. This is the best way for the city to retain the structure.”
“This will be a good addition to our downtown,” said Ashton, referring to the city’s downtown plan, which has Downey Avenue as the main street and is generally bordered by Firestone Boulevard on the south, Fifith Street on the north, Brookshire Avenue on the east and Paramount Boulevard on the west.
“Downtown Downey is envisioned as a vibrant urban center providing a wide array of dining, working, living, shopping, entertainment and cultural opportunities,” said Community Development Director Aldo E. Schindler, citing the city’s downtown development plan.
The sales agreement allows the agency to buy back the site if it is unhappy with subsequent plans, which now must go to the Downey Planning Commission, or failure to meet the time line, which is construction to start within a year and be completed in two years.
Amosa said his architects will now examine the theater building, constructed in the 1920s, and renovate it for restaurant and lounge use. The exterior brick will be retained and the marquee on the Downey Avenue entrance will be upgraded with more efficient lighting, Amosa said.
He said the major exterior change will be to add an entrance in the current wall fronting on Third Street.
The L-shaped building surrounds three existing businesses, including a restaurant and a sandwich shop at the southeast corner of Third Street and Downey Avenue. Those businesses are not involved in the project, Schindler said.
Only one person spoke at the public hearing, asking about capacity and parking. Amosa said capacity will be determined by the interior renovation. Parking issues and possible rental of space will be discussed with surrounding churches and businesses, he said.
The building has limited on-site parking, although the city’s four-story parking structure is nearby at Second Avenue and New Street.
However, a previous nightclub plan ran into opposition from the adjoining Downey Baptist Church to the east with parking and traffic congestion cited as an issue.
Schindler said tentative plans include a basement restaurant with about 10 tables, a main level restaurant with about 20 tables next to a 30-table lounge, with an entrance off Third Street. Also proposed is a rooftop eatery with about 10 tables on top of the two-and-a-half-story building, he added.
The Downey restaurant group owns and operates Gaucho Grill, which recently opened in the city’s Promenade shopping center.
It also owns and operates restaurants in Brentwood, Burbank and downtown Long Beach, Schindler said.