In its heyday, Chula Vista’s Vogue Theater was the place to be.
The historic single-screen movie theater in the heart of downtown Chula Vista attracted people from all over the South Bay. Delicious popcorn and deals like Dollar Tuesdays brought families looking for a night out or young couples looking for a discreet make-out spot.
“Growing up in Chula Vista, the Vogue was the place to go,” said Councilman John McCann. “First with your parents. and then when you got a little older.”
But the theater – which was built in 1945 – struggled to compete with shopping malls and multi-screen movie theaters. By the time it closed down in the summer of 2006, fewer than 50 people bought tickets to the final show – a triple-feature of “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” “Over the Hedge,” and “Poseidon.”
But a new investment group wants to resurrect the old Vogue Theater and it has City Hall’s backing to convert the theater into a convert venue and outdoor event space.
The same architects behind George’s at the Cove and Little Italy’s Kettner Exchange want to turn the two-story, concrete building into a venue that rivals the House of Blues or North Park Observatory.
Slade Fischer, co-owner of the architecture firm Tecture and a representative of the Vogue’s investment group, said the project’s “opportunity to not only capture Chula Vista, but the greater South Bay area, is enormous by creating a destination where people can come down and invest their dollars on Third Avenue.”
Fischer envisions turning the Vogue into a concert venue and an eating and drinking destination with bars on the first and second floors, an outdoor beer garden, space for food trucks, patios, and family-friendly event space.
The project will pay homage to the historic theater by preserving the old facade with a minimally invasive remodel and host outdoor movie screenings by projecting movies onto the side of the building.
Tecture ran a market analysis of single-screen theater conversions and believes the Vogue can become a regional destination, particularly if Chula Vista successfully develops its University site and pulls off the Bayfront development.
Chula Vista set aside a large area of land as a University and Innovation District that it hopes will become a space for multiple universities, including four-year public institutions, small private universities and even international universities. The city is currently in talks with Saint Katherine University, which wants to relocate from San Marcos to the South Bay.
The city’s Bayfront development project includes a $1 billion hotel and convention center. Chula Vista hopes this project is a catalyst for even more waterfront development and creates a new neighborhood full of hotels, condos, restaurants, and hops along the bay.
However, those conversions only work if the single-screen theaters have back-of-the-house infrastructure to support dining and drinking services. The Vogue currently doesn’t have that.
That’s where the city comes in. Chula Vista owns a vacant parking lot next door to the Vogue. On Tuesday, the City Council voted to sell that vacant lot to the ownership group for $210,000. The city bought the lot for $260,000 in February 2015.
That sale is contingent upon the investment group securing financing for the project and completing the design review process. City staff believe the project will have a positive fiscal impact on other businesses on Third Avenue and the local tax base through increases in sales tax revenue.
Third Avenue is in the midst of an ambitious renaissance that has seen restaurants and breweries transform the once-sleepy corridor into an eating and drinking hub.
After years of promoting growth in the eastern part of Chula Vista, the city has been helping businesses open in the western downtown area by connecting landlords to entrepreneurs and helping them through the permitting process of transforming retail shops into restaurants and beer halls.
Fischer is a board member of the local business organization, Third Avenue Village Association, which promotes economic development along Third Avenue.
Councilwoman Jill Galvez, who represents the district the Vogue is in, said the community is so excited to see somebody actually doing something with the abandoned theater that her office has received multiple calls about the project.
“The number one question we get is, when,” she told Fischer during Tuesday’s council meeting.
“As soon as possible,” Fischer replied.
In June, the city and Third Avenue Village Association plan to start a year-long process to enhance a portion of Third Avenue in front of the Vogue. The Third Avenue Streetscape project includes features such as traffic-calming measures for better pedestrian access, new median landscaping, and lighting.
Fischer told Galvez that he plans to work on the Vogue’s conversion concurrently with the streetscape. If everything goes according to plan, both projects should finish by June 2020.
“We are very excited; it’s a gorgeous project,” Galvez said. “It’s going to be a great destination for all of us.”