Paul Wellman

Downtown business leaders are calling for greater transparency around City Hall’s closed-door lease negotiations with Paseo Nuevo over the former Macy’s space, where a new IMAX theater may reportedly be installed. Given the intense public interest over State Street’s vacancy crisis — and the growing momentum to craft collaborative solutions — downtown stakeholders want to see more open dialogue over the fate of the massive retail space that will be critical to any revitalization efforts. There also exists intense skepticism that an IMAX theater will provide the general-appeal draw the area needs, given its high ticket prices and nighttime-focused programming.

Mayor Cathy Murillo wouldn’t comment on the ongoing negotiations, stating only that “the city is working hard to secure a lease that boosts the vitality of the mall, the downtown in general, and the entire city.”

Meanwhile, last week, the City Council voted to continue with its Accelerate program, an initiative launched last year to expedite the permitting and approval process for State Street tenants. While the commercial vacancy rate today is the same as it was last year — 11 percent, according to the city — councilmembers said they believed in the strategy and its ability to bear fruit in the future.

During the hearing, downtown property owners Jim Knell and Richard Berti — whose retail holdings make up an exceptionally large portion of State Street, and whose reputations as especially difficult landlords are well-known — complained about the program, and they took their characteristically acerbic tones with the council. “It’s a battle to do business with you people,” Knell said. “You don’t cooperate.” Berti agreed. “I think things are too slow. … I am about to do things without a permit.” Councilmember Gregg Hart cautioned that the vacancies cannot be blamed on any one issue and that all downtown interests must cooperate to find the answers.


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