The Sundance Cinemas deal has the potential to turn around 40th Street and boost community ties. and Scott Lanman The recent announcement that a Robert Redford-backed art-house cinema and a specialty food market would come to campus represented the fruits of two ongoing, major efforts of University administrators: improving relations with residents of the surrounding community and bringing exciting ventures to campus. But in the process of realizing these goals, University administrators are taking a risk on an unproven venture -- albeit one backed by two established businesses -- and are displacing several long-time retail denizens from their current positions in the Hamilton Village shopping center at 40th and Walnut streets. Nevertheless, the 40th Street redevelopment has far-reaching implications. University officials hope the introduction of the movie complex and the food market will have a positive impact on a wide area, extending north to Market Street and south to Baltimore Street, Penn Executive Vice President John Fry said. "We want to make 40th and Walnut [streets] the locus of a huge amount of activity," said Fry, who oversaw the deals. At a press conference on October 2, University officials announced that movie titan Redford, in partnership with General Cinemas, would open one of the first Sundance Cinemas in the country in the Hamilton Village shopping center at 40th and Locust streets. Construction of the more than 40,000-square-foot complex -- which will include six to eight screens, a public meeting area, restaurant, outdoor cafe, bar and childcare center --is scheduled to begin in January and last a year. University officials also announced that a multi-story parking garage with a specialty food market, operated by area entrepreneur Pat Burns, would open on the northwest corner of the intersection. Burger King and longtime campus gym University City Nautilus, both located in the Hamilton Village shops, are being forced to close. Their neighbor, Bucks County Coffee Co., will close around November 1 and reopen when construction on the theaters is completed in early 2000. Although it is unclear whether other retail changes in the strip mall are in the works, University officials have said they are looking to bring more-upscale shops to the building, which currently contains fast-food joints, a convenience store, a bicycle shop, Radio Shack, a shoe store and other businesses. Penn officials aren't worried about any negative reaction from area residents, many of whom reacted with enthusiasm to the plans for the theater and specialty food market -- something students and community members had clamored for. Many community leaders had previously expressed fears that the new Sansom Common project might represent Penn's abandonment of plans to revitalize the 40th Street area. Still, some expressed concern that the garage would be an eyesore. John Betak, an area resident who leads the Spruce Hill Community Association's Renewal Committee, said last week that the garage will be "a massive structure no matter how creative the architect is." "It will fundamentally alter? how 40th Street feels," he said. In addition, on a campus that was left without any movie screens for a few months when the only two campus cinemas closed in 1994, the ultimate success of a brand-new complex with as many as eight screens -- even one with the big-guns of Redford and General Cinemas behind it -- is unclear. Tom Lussenhop, Penn's top real estate official, said administrators are confident that the new movie complex will be a hit, citing Sundance's "18-year track record encouraging and distributing independent films" and General Cinemas' being "among the most experienced theater operators in the world." One of those theaters, the AMC Walnut Mall 3, reopened in 1995 under new ownership as Cinemagic. When Cinemagic originally opened, it showed a mix of mainstream and niche films. More recently, though, it has stuck to box-office hits; currently playing are Rush Hour, There's Something About Mary and Urban Legend. Cinemagic owner Andrew Sheppard has not responded to requests for comment in recent weeks. Also, much of the Sundance project is still up in the air. At the press conference to announce the new venture, Redford offered no firm design plans -- only ideas about what would be included in the new complex.Comments powered by Disqus
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