Downtown San Luis Obispo may be getting an upgrade. Local developers Rob Rossi and John King are working to potentially bring an IMAX movie theater to the area.
The proposed theater would be built in the small parking lot behind the already existing Fremont Theater. The two cinemas would be connected to create The Fremont Square Entertainment Complex.
“The backside of that lot is dead at night, we would like to create a great venue to liven up Higuera Street,” Rossi said. “It would be more than an IMAX; it will be a multi-purpose building.”
IMAX is known for larger screens, superb sound quality and immersive technology. There are approximately 600 IMAX theaters around the world, and the closest one to San Luis Obispo is at the Hearst Castle Visitor Center.
With a new IMAX, the Fremont Square will be a focal point of entertainment downtown. Rossi said he wants construction to begin in 2013. The plan for the new entertainment complex is already submitted and awaiting the outcome of an administrative hearing that should take place in June.
If constructed, the proposed theater would be used for IMAX films, live performances, private meetings and educational exhibitions, Rossi said. IMAX has an extensive library of education films that would be available to use in the proposed theater, which will seat approximately 300.
Such events could be held at the neighboring Mission Cinemas, but at a smaller level. The Mission Cinemas, neighboring the Fremont, was built in 1984 and is in dire need of repairs, Rossi said. The proposed plan will include renovations to the three screens, allowing a smaller theater experience with approximately 90 to 100 seats, Rossi said.
“We just want to dress up this great venue,” Rossi said. “When it is done, it will be perfect for private events and meetings.”
Though downtown will get a new building and old ones are being upgraded, Rossi said he wants to keep the vintage feel of the Fremont alive. He purchased an old Warner Brothers fully neon marquee that was once on the Granada Theatre in Santa Barbara. The sign is the same vintage as the Fremont’s, but significantly different, he said.
According to Tim Ronda, the principle architect at SDG Architects, one main lobby will connect the three theaters: IMAX, Fremont and Mission. This allows access to all of the theaters from either Monterey or Higuera streets.
Another interesting feature of the proposed IMAX theater is a sawtooth roof. The roof is designed to support photovoltaic solar panels and to enhance the acoustics of the theater.
“There is a big buzz going around about this theater,” Ronda said. “We submitted it earlier this week and have gotten a favorable response from the city.”
The locals are also excited about the proposed Fremont Square. San Luis Obispo resident Nate Christian said he thinks a new IMAX will improve the moviegoing experience and is interested to see the neon marquee.
“I’ve been to IMAX a few times now and love it,” Christian said. “It’s a different experience — seeing a movie or documentary on a such a large screen with perfect sound. It would be an awesome addition to downtown.”