In Spite of Public Opposition, Developer Acquires Open-Ended Extension for Purchasing Rialto Theatre from United Artists
by Suzette Stalker for The Westfield Leader, 01/23/97
Developer Herman "Hy" Carlinsky, the President of Armstrong Management Corporation in Long Island, was granted another extension last week on his deadline to purchase the Rialto Theatre from United Artists, while supporters of the theater continued to investigate prospects for preserving the 75-yearold East Broad Street landmark.
Mr. Carlinsky, whose most recent deadline for closing the deal with the Denver-based conglomerate had been January 15, confirmed to The Westfield Leader on Tuesday that he has now been given an "open-ended" extension on his option to buy the Rialto. United Artists announced last year that it was selling many of its smaller theaters and is now concentrating on multiplexes which can generate greater profits.
The developer said the latest extension was issued in order to give him additional time to work with the community on proposals for the theater building. He had been granted several previous extensions last year while he pursued a lease agreement with The Gap, Inc., which has since scrubbed its plans to open a store on the Rialto site.
A local "Save the Rialto" committee, organized through Westfield "MainStreet", has been working with Mr. Carlinsky on proposals for retaining the beloved theater, which has stood in the heart of Westfield's downtown since the vaudeville era and continues to show first-run feature films on its three screens.
One concept which the committee and Mr. Carlinsky are currently considering is for the second floor of the Rialto to be developed as a four- or five-screen theater, with the first floor to be converted into retail. A ground floor lobby on the East Broad Street side of the corner building would allow movie patrons to enter and exit.
"I would think that long-term, that's a very real solution, even though we want to have a movie theater," remarked Westfield MainStreet Program Manager Michele Picou, who added that details of the proposal are still under discussion. Citing the Rialto's prime location in the business district, she noted that "most of the healthy downtowns are going toward a mix of shopping and entertainment".
According to "Save The Rialto" spokesman David Owens, Mr. Carlinsky's original proposal had been to develop only the first floor of the building. Supporters of the theater, however, favor having him renovate the entire building, with the new second-floor cinema space to be leased to a movie theater operator. He said prospective theater operator tenants have already expressed interest in the proposed arrangement.
Although the Rialto faces tough competition from the Sony Theaters 10-plex on Route 22, East, in Mountainside, Mr. Owens maintained that "there are theater operators who have a niche market in theaters like ours." Its supporters argue the Rialto is still economically via and could attract new audiences offering such specialty fare as foreign films and children's movies; using innovative booking techniques and by supplying refreshment alternatives to the usual popcorn and soda.
Mr. Carlinsky acknowledged officials at The Gap, Inc.'s corporate offices in San Francisco recently notified him that they were no longer interested in putting a retail store on the Rialto property because of widespread public opposition to the plan, including threats to boycott existing Gap stores if the theater was converted into retail. The Gap, Inc. already has two stores in Westfield.
Officials at The Gap, Inc., reportedly made their decision after a representative from their corporate realestate department quietly paid a visit to the town in early December to personally gauge the feelings of residents concerning the retail proposal and to inspect the theater site. The company representative found that public sentiment appeared to be unanimous in support of preserving the theater, Mrs. Picou said.
Mr. Carlinsky indicated he would pursue another lease agreement with a retailer if the proposal for combined use of the building turned out to be the "ultimate plan". He explained that "it's the retail that will make the deal work financially," unless another alternative could be found whereby the site could successfully remain exclusively a movie theater.
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