Morris defends Regal negotiations
Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 12/20/2010 09:56:00 PM PST

SAN BERNARDINO – Officials are clashing with a business owner who is gathering opposition to what the city says is a key piece to downtown revitalization.

Ronald Rezek, who runs a logistics company, has written an open letter to the City Council calling the city’s efforts to lease a vacant cinema near Fourth and E streets to Regal Entertainment Group a “highly speculative and flawed downtown development plan” that will cost taxpayers millions.

“(Mayor) Pat Morris is a great guy, (and) he is thinking if they can invest downtown, maybe down the line they can get more revenue,” Rezek said. “Well … maybe. Speculating on that building is pie in the sky.”

Rezek e-mailed the letter, which contains a page for support signatures, to what one official with the city said was thousands of recipients.

Morris shot back Monday in defense of the city’s plans for the vacant cinema, saying Regal will anchor a revived downtown and signal to other cities that San Bernardino is back in the development game.

“You can’t compete with Regal,” Morris said. “That’s what I call an economic battleship that can defend this city in the downtown renaissance.”

The mayor and council on Jan. 10 will conduct a public hearing to consider a 34-year lease agreement with Regal to show movies at the theater, which was formerly occupied by Cinema- Star, and has been vacant for two years.

Rezek said in his letter that the current plan “requires the city to `play developer,’ risking taxpayer funds to speculate on retail space in a market that is 50percent vacant.”

A better plan, he said, would be to construct new buildings around the east and west side of the theater. They would be properly designed for retail purposes when demand for retail locations increases.

Until retail uses are found, more “unwanted” vacant retail space in the downtown area will result from the city’s plan, Rezek said. At the same time,the opportunity to have the largest number of screens and the most viability for the theater complex will be compromised with a reduction from 20 screens to 14 screens, he said.

Rezek said he has no political or monetary interest in the downtown vision, and he supports Morris and the city.

“The last thing I want to do is make an enemy,” he said. “I think possibly they’ve taken it the wrong way. I just strongly feel they are going the wrong direction from a business perspective.”

His letter spurred a lengthy letter to the community from Emil Marzullo, the city’s interim Economic Development Agency director, who denounced Rezek’s claims.

Marzullo characterized Rezek’s letter as “an error-filled memorandum” filled with “legally confidential information” distributed to advance certain private and political agendas.

Morris said Marzullo’s response was “powerful.”

“(Rezek’s) letter is an unfortunate compilation of misinformation that obviously is intended to try to reverse a decision made by the council after thoughtful consideration and study,” Morris said, adding that Rezek’s letter contained information that came out of a closed-session meeting.

The council earlier this year decided to negotiate with Regal for a lease that could result in movies returning to downtown by spring.

“A quality lease with a company the size of Regal makes this asset a very valuable asset,” Morris said. “It makes it more valuable by far than a closed, dark theater.”

Officials looked at proposals from four companies, and Knoxville, Tenn.-based Regal was the largest. Regal operates more than 540 theaters in the United States.

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