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El Camino Theater Sits Vacant With No Future Changes Any Time Soon

The redevelopment plans for the old El Camino Theater complex have been left at a standstill since one of the developer's investors passed away.

Walk or drive down San Mateo Avenue from El Camino Real and, besides the big marquee letting you know that you're about to enter downtown's main strip, what's the first thing you're welcomed by? A vacant building. A significant one, to be exact.

The old El Camino Theater and two adjacent buildings have sat vacant for nearly two years. The developer, a group of investors from China, was supposed to demolish the former theater building and the three buildings next two it last year and turn them into a three-story mixed-use development that would house businesses and housing.

But according to the city, one of developer's main investors recently died, which has left the project at a standstill. This has caused some problems, said Mark Sullivan, the city's redevelopment manager, mostly because the buildings have often been left unkempt.

Sullivan said the buildings have collected a few code violations for overgrown weeds, a flooded basement and, most recently broken windows. At one point, Sullivan said, one of the buildings was being used as a homeless encampment. You might have seen the complex fenced in and boarded up a few times over the last year. This is why.

In addition, because the El Camino Theater building has been remodeled and used for so many purposes over the years and left vacant for so long, the building has lost all historic value (see attached document).

For right now, the city has been mostly staying in communication with a representative of the developer, which has also recently reorganized itself and changed its name to AW Financial and Investment. The representative is apparently a well-known property manager in Oakland. "If anything goes wrong, then we contact the property manager," Sullivan said. "They're generally responsive."

Sullivan added that the city is still open to other developers taking up the project in the meantime. As part of the city's recently released draft of its downtown transit corridors plan, the building could actually be built to have four stories instead of just three.

Location: 406-418 San Mateo Ave.

Vacant since: 2007

Owner: AW Financial and Investment

Assessed value of property: $4.07 million

Who to contact: Mark Sullivan, San Bruno housing and redevelopment manager, 650-616-7053, msullivan@ci.sanbruno.ca.us; comments can also be made by calling the city's Community Development Department at 650-616-7074.

Peter Carey December 08, 2010 at 04:30 PM
It is a real shame that with many cities building "downtown" movie theaters we've had one which remains empty. It is also unfortunate that the buildings owners have been unable to follow through with their bill of goods which they sold to our council. The boarded up window at the former barber shop looks terrible, and the graffiti is an on going problem.
Bernard December 30, 2010 at 09:17 PM
I know what I would like to see, property owners give a huge break on the rent to artists looking for store front studios. With that, revitalization should follow. It seems to be a pattern and has happened in other American communities. San Bruno would never be Burlingame Ave, instead it would become a unique artist colony on the peninsula.
Karin Cunningham December 31, 2010 at 07:01 PM
Now THAT'S a great idea! I hope someone proposes that! I would LOVE to see something unique and organized be used in that building as well as the building on San Bruno Ave. at the rail road tracks!
Martin Ricard December 31, 2010 at 08:53 PM
Bernard, please contact me about your idea. I'd like to explore this further, if you're interested. You can email me at martin@patch.com. Also, has this idea been proposed to the city's Culture and Arts Commission?

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