Santee movie theater deal falls through, but runner-up steps up


There’s been a little bit of a delay in Santee’s first sit-down movie theater in nearly 20 years.

A deal the city put together last fall with Texas-based national chain Cinemark to work with development company Kimco Realty Corp. to build and run a theater in Santee has fallen through.

But the project is headed for an alternate, happy ending.

The runner-up from last year’s bid to develop the theater — Studio Movie Grill, another national chain — is already on the scene, according to City Manager Marlene Best.

“This is a priority project for us,” Best said. “We weren’t getting a timely response from the bidders, so we moved right on and started talking to another firm to move quickly.”

Studio Movie Grill was the pioneer of in-theater cinema dining. As part of its modus operandi, people purchase movie tickets, arrive 20 minutes early, find seats (with built-in tabletops) and place orders from an extensive menu through call buttons. Alcohol will be available for purchase, as well.

There will be a restaurant on premises serving “American grill” food so that theater-goers are able to watch a movie while dining before and during the show.

Those who just want to watch a movie and not eat will also be welcome. The city is also looking into the possibility of asking Studio Movie Grill to open a concession stand on site, as a survey of Santee residents showed an interest in that.

Residents have been telling the city for years that they would like to have an alternative or addition to the drive-in movie theater in Santee.

“Studio Movie Grill is jumping all over themselves to try to open soon,” said City Councilman Ronn Hall. “I’m excited. It’s what everybody in Santee wants — a state-of-the-art fantastic restaurant with a great theater, too.”

In October, the Santee City Council unanimously chose Cinemark and its partner, Kimco Realty Corp. out of New York. The deal was to have the groups work to develop a 9- to 12-screen multiplex along with an upscale restaurant on a 7-acre parcel at Towne Center Parkway.

At the meeting in October, the City Council noted that if things fell through with Cinemark and Kimco, that Santee would contact Studio Movie Grill.

The movie theater and restaurant will be located on the land next to the Park One apartment complex. Development should start once the City Council approves an official contract, which should happen in the next month.

Best said she expects the project to be built within 11 months from the time a permit is issued.

“We want to move the theater ahead as fast as possible,” Best said. “We want to have a landmark building, something the citizens can be proud of and fine dining so that they can have a good time without spending an arm and a leg.

“(Santee residents) won’t have to travel to La Jolla or Point Loma to get a high-quality experience. This will be the best available in East County.”