California developer to visit Lexington to discuss downtown movie complex

bfortune@herald-leader.comDecember 19, 2012 

  • Downtown area for six-screen project

The Downtown Development Authority has asked California movie theater developer George Krikorian to come to Lexington in early January for further talks about building a downtown cinema and entertainment complex.

"There is no promise that this is a done deal. We have a lot of work to do. This is a nod that we want to keep talking," Jeff Fugate, president of the Downtown Development Authority, said Wednesday.

Last summer, the city issued a request for qualifications, saying that it wanted to hear from companies interested in building a six-screen downtown movie, entertainment and restaurant project.

Two companies responded: Metroplex Theatres, doing business as Krikorian Premiere Theatres in Torrance, Calif., and Look Cinemas in Dallas.

Both companies made presentations in October to the Downtown Development Authority's selection committee.

The request for qualifications was to give the committee a chance to understand Krikorian's company, "conceptually, what he thought about Lexington and why this was a good market for his project," Fugate said.

The committee wanted to know what the project's plans were in terms of number of visitors, revenue and architecturally.

"That's where we are now," he said. "But that's an important first step in any development project."

Krikorian submitted proposals for two locations: one above the Transit Center, the other behind the Kentucky Theater.

"The important next step will be for Mr. Krikorian to sit down with affected stakeholders like the parking authority, meet face to face, and understand what their needs are in order to make the deal work," Fugate said.

The complex will require negotiating a ground lease with the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, which controls both sites. Parking arrangements must be negotiated with the Lexington Parking Authority. There might be additional parties that must be engaged in the process, Fugate said.

Fugate sent a letter to Krikorian last week notifying him that the Downtown Development Authority and the city wanted to talk with him further. If details can be worked out so the project goes forward, the Downtown Development Authority will assist in site selection, design and a financing plan.

The Downtown Development Authority asked Krikorian to come to Lexington in the first week of January to meet with Mayor Jim Gray and other city officials.

What happens next "is we really get down into the weeds and make sure there is a real project here," Fugate said.

Krikorian will have to submit financial information about his company, as he would if he were applying for a loan, and he must include a letter from Bank of America verifying his line of credit.

"His company has a solid track record, albeit in California. This would be a new market for him," Fugate said. Krikorian "has shown us he has the financial capacity to do the project."

Krikorian will be asked to obtain an architectural rendering for the entertainment complex and a cost estimate.

What the city has in mind is for a "higher-end movie complex, something that is not already in Lexington," Fugate said. It would include more than one food service, screens to show different types of movies, plus a bowling alley.

"George is motivated to get started as soon as possible," said Lexington attorney T. Bruce Simpson, who represents Krikorian.

Krikorian, reached at his office in Torrance, Calif., said he has been in the theater business about 30 years. He has built more than 20 multi-screen theaters, most in urban settings in California, frequently combining new construction with renovated old buildings.

Several of the theaters have won awards. Krikorian's movieplex in Monrovia's Old Town was named the winner of the Statewide Award of Excellence from the California Redevelopment Association.

Krikorian said he became acquainted with Lexington and Central Kentucky through the Thoroughbred business. His father was a horse trainer in New England, and Krikorian grew up around race tracks. He has broodmares and a racing stable.

Five years ago, he bought a horse farm in Woodford County, where he keeps broodmares. He has raced at Keeneland and Churchill Downs.

But Krikorian's interest in Lexington extends beyond his affinity for horses. He has tried before to start a business here.

In 2009, Krikorian announced ShowProp, a $70 million development on Angliana Avenue with a 12-screen movie theater, a bowling alley, restaurants, retail stores, a grocery and 150 apartments.

The 15-acre site was within walking distance of the University of Kentucky, South Hill and the Lexington Center. It included the former Kentucky Eagle Beer distributorship building, a tobacco warehouse and part of the adjoining railroad property.

"We had all the entitlements worked out and had approval for the TIF (tax increment financing)," he said.

The project was scrapped because the adjoining railroad, which owned a piece of property that was a key to the development, agreed verbally to lease the land, but they never formalized the agreement, Krikorian said.

"Out of frustration, the property owner we were dealing with sold a portion of their property to somebody else, making it impossible for us to proceed," he said.

Krikorian said Wednesday, "It looks like we're getting a second chance in Lexington."

"I appreciate the opportunity," he said. "We will get this one done."

The Downtown Development Authority has asked California movie theater developer George Krikorian to come to Lexington in early January for further talks about building a downtown cinema and entertainment complex.

"There is no promise that this is a done deal. We have a lot of work to do. This is a nod that we want to keep talking," Jeff Fugate, president of the Downtown Development Authority, said Wednesday.

Last summer, the city issued a request for qualifications, saying that it wanted to hear from companies interested in building a six-screen downtown movie theater, entertainment and restaurant project.

Two companies responded: Metroplex Theatres, doing business as Krikorian Premiere Theatres in Torrance, Calif.; and Look Cinemas in Dallas.

Both companies made presentations in October to the Downtown Development Authority's selection committee.

The request for qualifications was to give the committee a chance to understand Krikorian's company, "conceptually, what he thought about Lexington and why this was a good market for his project," Fugate said.

The committee wanted to know what the project's plans were in terms of number of visitors, revenue and architecturally.

"That's where we are now," he said. "But that's an important first step in any development project."

Krikorian submitted proposals for two locations: one above the Transit Center, the other behind the Kentucky Theatre.

"The important next step will be for Mr. Krikorian to sit down with affected stakeholders like the parking authority, meet face to face, and understand what their needs are in order to make the deal work," Fugate said.

The complex will require negotiating a ground lease with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, which controls both sites. Parking arrangements must be negotiated with the Lexington Parking Authority. Additional parties might need to be engaged in the process, Fugate said.

Fugate sent a letter to Krikorian last week notifying him that the Downtown Development Authority and the city wanted to talk with him further. If details can be worked out so the project goes forward, the Downtown Development Authority will assist in site selection, design and a financing plan.

The Downtown Development Authority asked Krikorian to come to Lexington in the first week of January to meet with Mayor Jim Gray and other city officials.

What happens next "is we really get down into the weeds and make sure there is a real project here," Fugate said.

Krikorian will have to submit financial information about his company, as he would if he were applying for a loan, and he must include a letter from Bank of America verifying his line of credit.

"His company has a solid track record, albeit in California. This would be a new market for him," Fugate said. Krikorian "has shown us he has the financial capacity to do the project."

Krikorian will be asked to obtain an architectural rendering for the entertainment complex and a cost estimate.

What the city has in mind is for a "higher-end movie complex, something that is not already in Lexington," Fugate said. It would include more than one food service, screens to show different types of movies, and a bowling alley.

"George is motivated to get started as soon as possible," said Lexington attorney T. Bruce Simpson, who represents Krikorian.

Krikorian, reached at his office in Torrance, Calif., said he has been in the theater business about 30 years. He has built more than 20 multi-screen theaters, most in urban settings in California, frequently combining new construction with renovated buildings.

Several of the theaters have won awards. Krikorian's movieplex in Monrovia's Old Town won the California Redevelopment Association's Statewide Award of Excellence.

Krikorian said he became acquainted with Lexington and Central Kentucky through the Thoroughbred business. His father was a horse trainer in New England, and Krikorian grew up around racetracks. He has broodmares and a racing stable.

Five years ago, he bought a horse farm in Woodford County, where he keeps broodmares. He has raced at Keeneland and Churchill Downs.

But Krikorian's interest in Lexington extends beyond his affinity for horses. He has tried before to start a business here.

In 2009, Krikorian announced ShowProp, a $70 million development on Angliana Avenue with a 12-screen movie theater, a bowling alley, restaurants, retail stores, a grocery and 150 apartments.

The 15-acre site was within walking distance of the University of Kentucky, South Hill and the Lexington Center. It included the former Kentucky Eagle Beer distributorship building, a tobacco warehouse and part of the adjoining railroad property.

"We had all the entitlements worked out and had approval for the TIF (tax increment financing)," he said.

The project was scrapped because the adjoining railroad, which owned a piece of property that was a key to the development, agreed verbally to lease the land, but never formalized the agreement, Krikorian said.

"Out of frustration, the property owner we were dealing with sold a portion of their property to somebody else, making it impossible for us to proceed," he said.

Krikorian said Wednesday, "It looks like we're getting a second chance in Lexington."

"I appreciate the opportunity," he said. "We will get this one done."

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010.

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