Is the Westhampton Cinema on the block? For weeks rumors have circulated among developers and others that the 73-year-old movie theater in the West End is in the process of being sold, while its owners stay mum.
“The rumor is that it’s being redeveloped as a sort of retail mall-within-a-mall type area,” local real estate developer Charlie Diradour says.
Jim McVey of Commonwealth Commercial Partners has heard differently. He says word on the street is that the property’s “under contract” to a developer who hopes to convert the theater to mixed-use housing and retail.
Officials at Regal Entertainment Group, which owns the Westhampton, didn’t return several calls from Style Weekly seeking comment — nor did they respond to calls earlier this year for a story reported in a neighborhood blog, the Near West End News. No building plans had been submitted to the city’s planning department as of last week.
City Councilman Bruce Tyler, who represents the corridor along Grove Avenue where the theater sits, says he isn’t surprised that there’s interest in the property. The theater has served as a destination for local cinephiles for years, featuring art-house flicks the larger theaters largely avoid. But it also must deal with increased competition, particularly with the opening of the 17-screen Movieland at Boulevard Square in 2009.
“The Westhampton is a wonderful theater,” Tyler says, “but this is an area that is changing, and we are going to see retail and housing that reflects the need of the community.”
Tyler is crafting a plan to bring the Grove Avenue corridor’s zoning in line with the city’s master plan. After years of expansion, more and more smaller retailers have moved into the area. There’s also a need for “a higher concentration of housing and maybe more multifamily housing,” Tyler says.
The theater has some size, nearly 60,000 square feet, which makes the property attractive for apartments or condos. But what would it mean for the neighborhood to lose a working movie theater?
Kevin LaCivita, executive chef at the Blue Goat next door, says he’d welcome additional development. “I’d miss the theater,” he says. “But more restaurants and more housing in the area means more diners in the area, which means this area becomes a destination. We welcome it.”