The COVID-19 pandemic could create two major vacancies at The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley that’s anchored by Bass Pro Shops.
The AMC movie theater chain that operates 16 screens at the Manteca shopping complex at the 120 Bypass and Union Road warned Wednesday that it may not survive the pandemic.
That comes on the heels of JC Penney filing bankruptcy in the midst of the pandemic. The 118-year-old retailer plans to close 242 stores or 29 percent of its locations. Retail experts do not believe the Manteca store that benefits from a growing market that affords some cushion from how online commerce is eroding brick and mortar business is among those 242 stores targeted for closing. However, there are serious concerns whether JC Penney can survive the acceleration to online shopping that the pandemic has triggered.
AMC’s problems stem from how the pandemic has shifted movie viewing. Not only are new releases going directly to streaming services but there is expected to be a dearth of blockbuster movies — the main reason theaters have been able to stay in the game — due to the pandemic shutting down movie production.
That means when theaters are allowed to reopen in Stage 3, there may not be many reasons to lure customers back for months. It also won’t help that social distancing protocols being bantered about for movie theaters will add significant cost and reduce capacity. There is also a question as to how comfortable people will be venturing back to movie houses with COVID-19 still being a major issue.
Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu noted that while negotiations with Orchard Valley owners to lease space for a new city library location looks promising, he is frustrated Poag Development hasn’t been aggressive at trying to fill vacant space and develop the rest of the site.
“The market has changed,” Cantu said.
That said, Cantu emphasized Manteca’s robust growth offers opportunities that Poag could capitalize on.
Cantu noted that there are shopping areas in the San Jose area that have incorporated apartment complexes. The leading example is Santana Row. It has vibrant ground level shops and restaurants incorporated with multi-story apartments built around a community plaza that serves as a gathering place.
Cantu noted if some of the nearly 1,400 parking spaces as well as seven free-standing pads for restaurants that have never been developed were used to build apartments it would provide a consumer base within walking distance to help support filling vacant in-line space with restaurants and shops. Such a strategy would be bolstered by the 428-unit Valencia Place apartment complex being built to the east of Bass Pro Shops. Work is underway on the first phase of 214 apartments.
There are signs the apartment demand will grow even stronger in Manteca and the rest of the South County. Work is now underway on the 128-unit Woodbridge Apartment complex northeast of the Lathrop Road and Union Road intersection. Interest has been shown in moving forward with a 300-unit apartment complex on the south side of Atherton Drive across Union Road from Orchard Valley.
River Islands at Lathrop is preparing to move apartment complexes forward now instead of later due to a growing housing market demand. The first complexes would be in the town square area of the 11,000-home development. To a large degree, what River Islands plans for its town square with shops and restaurants on the ground floor with apartments above as well as other apartment complexes surrounding a commons is similar to what Cantu believes is the best going forward for Orchard Valley.
That’s because as a lifestyle center, Orchard Valley was designed not to lure in passing freeway traffic with smaller shops facing the road. Instead the shop space between JC Penney and the AMC Showplace 16 was designed to replicate a Main Street that encouraged strolling between shops and restaurants with the ability to park in front of store fronts.
Even if Orchard Valley is transformed by Poag Development as envisioned Cantu, the 16-screen theater complex could be extremely problematic.
Should AMC not survive, the odds are not strong that another chain would be in position at least initially to acquire the space. That’s because they are facing the same struggles AMC is but without being as much leveraged with debt. The growing market could ultimately make it appealing for a chain to take over the location assuming the carnage the pandemic has created to give streaming complete control of the current movie business isn’t lethal to theaters but that may take years to happen.
As for repurposing the cinemas that is extremely dicey as the structures are basically designed for only one purpose — to show movies.
Manteca’s original movie house — the El Rey — opened in the depth of the Great Depression in the 100 block of East Yosemite Avenue. A fire on Aug. 6, 1975, after a screening of “The Towering Inferno” left the gutted structure vacant for more than 22 years.
After a plan to convert it into an office building fell through in the late 1980s, the city toyed with buying it and razing the eyesore. Eventually it was repurposed as a brewery and restaurant. Today it is being readied for its third act as an events center.
A multi-screen cinema built on North Main Street was converted into a casino and restaurant after the Manteca Marketplace theatre opened. That structure was eventually converted into space now occupied by Big Lots and In Shape.
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