After yesterday's announcement that the Sundance Cinemas name may no longer anchor the shops along the 40th Street corridor, nearby retailers are disappointed but hopeful the University will salvage the project. University officials said their deal with the Robert Redford-backed movie theater chain fell apart 10 days ago when Sundance informed Penn it could no longer finance the entertainment complex at 40th and Walnut streets. Penn officials now say they expect to find another operator to run a similar movie theater within the next few months. But with no operator and construction just halfway completed, the project has experienced delay after delay since plans were announced in in the fall of 1998. And many local retailers are disappointed that it has been put on hold once again. "I would have loved to have seen it go in," Bitar's manager Rich Duggan said. "It would only boost our sales." Izzy and Zoe's owner Elissa Rivkind was also upset that the opening of the theater complex would be delayed. "It is a shame. We were hoping that [Sundance Cinemas] would build our dinner business," she said. "[Penn] is claiming they are going to get someone in there, but it might be two years." Tom Lussenhop, the University's top real estate official, maintained that Penn was still committed to a movie theater for the site, and the project's "time frame was a matter of months." Still, even if the entertainment complex were to open by May, it would be more than a year later than Penn officials originally planned. The prolonged absence of an anchor tenant like Sundance Cinemas could further set back Penn's plans to revitalize 40th Street and make West Philadelphia a destination spot. Although the University never guaranteed there would be a movie theater, officials used the Hollywood-backed entertainment complex to attract new retailers and restaurants. Indeed, many retailers said they hoped Sundance would generate foot-traffic -- especially during the summer months when students leave campus. However, some retailers didn't think the absence of a movie theater would impact their bottom line. "It's a great asset for the area, but not the reason I wanted to set up the grocery stops," said Pat Burns, the owner of the grocery store set to open across the street from the movie theater site in January. His project and the Sundance theater were to be the anchors of a new 40th Street corridor. Although many 40th Street retailers said they found out only yesterday that Sundance Cinemas had essentially backed out of its deal with Penn, rumors had been swirling for the past three weeks. Concerns swelled last month when Sundance's own financial partner, General Cinemas, filed for bankruptcy. Though Sundance told Penn they would secure another partner, they informed University officials about 10 days ago they were unable to do so. Penn officials, however, remain committed to having a movie theater in that location -- even if it means increasing the University's investment in the project to considerably more than the $15 million originally planned. Most of the 40th Street retailers and restaurants believe that Penn will make good on its word -- even if it will take a little longer than they had hoped. "I'm going to remain optimistic because it's going to be in the long-range interests of the University to have family-oriented businesses and a wide variety of restaurants on 40th Street," Duggan said.Comments powered by Disqus
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