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Developer Abandons Option to Purchase Rialto Theater (1/30/97)

By SUZETTE STALKER

Developer Herman "Hy" Carlinsky has pulled out of his option to purchase the Rialto Theatre from United Artists, The Westfield Leader learned early Wednesday morning, and supporters of the downtown landmark are now preparing to deal directly with the Denver-based film conglomerate in their effort to preserve the 75year-old landmark.

David Owens, a spokesman for the "Save The Rialto" Committee, confirmed that Mr. Carlinsky, the President of Armstrong Management Corporation of Long Island, notified him during a telephone conversation at 4-30 p.m. Tuesday that he was walking away from the project. Committee members had been working with Mr. Carlinsky since last year on development concepts for the East Broad Street theater. The developer had been scheduled to meet with the group tonight.

"He told me he was dropping out of the deal because United Artists was getting much too fussy in terms of their agreement with him and so he was stepping away."

Last week, Mr. Carlinsky reported that United Artists had granted him an open-ended extension on his deadline for purchasing the Rialto, which he said was issued in order to give him more time to work with the community on proposals for the building. The developer had received several previous extensions on his original deadline, including one which ended on January 15.

However, Mr. Owens said that the committee learned from a local source who had been in contact with United Artists that the developer had not received a further extension following the January 15 deadline. He added that United Artists was nevertheless willing to give, Mr. Carlinsky until the end this week to come to an agreement with the committee on a development proposal for the theater.

Mr. Carlinsky had attempted to negotiate a lease agreement last year with The Gap, Inc., which had been interested in opening a Banana Republic store on the Rialto site. The clothing chain backed out, however, in the face of widespread public opposition to converting the theater to retail.

The spokesman for "Save the Rialto," which was organized last fall through Westfield MainStreet to keep the town's last remaining movie theater alive, said that the committee now anticipates working with United Artists in helping them to find an "appropriate buyer, for the theater. He defined an appropriate buyer as one who can "work with contractors, architects and engineers to develop the theater in a way that's financially viable and will keep a theater on the site."

Michele Picou, . Westfield MainStreet Program Manager, said that the committee will likely continue to pursue a plan to combine retail and a movie theater at the Rialto site, noting that "Save the Rialto" members believe the mixed use concept represents "the only practical solution" for keeping the local theater in business. She said it's possible The Gap, Inc. could once again become a candidate for the retail portion of the building under the new proposal.

Mr. Owens said that United Artists has been entertaining offers for the Rialto property from other prospective buyers, adding that the committee has not been informed of who the other bidders are. He maintained that the town's participation would be a major factor in the conglomerate's ability to sell the Rialto. "We as a community can help them to sell what they want to sell," he commented.

United Artists announced early last year that it was selling many of its theaters with one, two or three screens, including the Rialto and the Bellevue Theatre in Upper Montclair, in order to concentrate on larger multiplexes which can generate greater profits. Mrs. Picou observed that many national film distributors are "getting out of the small theater business because they can do better with multiplexes."

Local residents immediately rallied around the Rialto, claiming the corner theater not only symbolizes Westfield's historic heritage but also is a safe and comfortable place for families and children to see a movie. They have also argued that the theater, because of its close proximity to restaurants and stores, is an integral part of Westfield's downtown economy.

Mr. Owens reported that although several members of the committee met Tuesday night following Mr. Carlinsky's revelation that he was abandoning his purchase option, the organization has not yet scheduled its next formal meeting. He noted, however, that "we are in the process of planning our next move with United Artists."

(1/27) Despite Uproar, Developer Persists - Continued

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08/06/97.

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