The marquee at Regal Theater sits vacant
The marquee at Regal Theater sits vacant for now, but the movie house now is set to reopen as Santa Cruz Cinema before month’s end.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID Economy

With Regal gone, Cinema 9 to reopen as ‘Santa Cruz Cinema’ under new operator

After Regal Cinemas decided to close the Pacific Avenue movie house permanently, a family owned company is stepping in to save it. Now, movies are set to resume there on March 25 — and beer and wine might soon be on sale, too.

A new operator is stepping in to save the Cinema 9 multiplex in downtown Santa Cruz — and rebrand it under a new name — in a deal that will see the movie house reopen at 25% capacity next week under state COVID-19 rules.

And, if everything goes as planned, filmgoers might soon be able to have a glass of beer or wine as they watch their flicks, some of which will be shown in 3D.

The new operator, called Santa Cruz Cinema, is affiliated with Sywest Development, the owner of the Pacific Square retail development that includes Cinema 9.

Until recently, Cinema 9 had been operated by Regal Cinemas under a lease with Sywest. But facing struggles amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Regal told its employees in mid-February that it would be ending operations at Cinema 9 permanently.

That prompted quick action by the city of Santa Cruz that helped lead to the theater-saving effort. Both Santa Cruz Cinema and Sywest Development are owned by Syufy Enterprises, a family-owned business that, until 2006, operated the Century Theatre chain and continues to be involved in the industry as an owner and operator of drive-in movie theaters.

The Santa Cruz Cinema logo is soon to be a fixture at the former Cinema 9.
The Santa Cruz Cinema logo, soon to be a fixture at the former Cinema 9.
(Courtesy Santa Cruz Cinema)

“We reached out to ... the property owner, as well as Regal cinemas a few weeks ago,” city Economic Development Director Bonnie Lipscomb told Lookout. “We have been talking to the owner for the last several weeks on keeping a theater use in Santa Cruz since that time.”

“We were extremely supportive of them continuing with a theater use as a priority,” Lipscomb said. “The Regal 9 served as a major anchor for downtown and the only remaining mainstream cinema in Santa Cruz.”

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It will take some time, but, eventually, the Santa Cruz Cinema logo will replace Regal’s branding on the well-known marquee along Pacific Avenue, with branding inside to be changed more quickly, said Tony Maniscalco, who is overseeing marketing for Santa Cruz Cinema.

Maniscalco and other Santa Cruz Cinema representatives said they fully believe a post-pandemic Santa Cruz will be ideal for a successful theater business.

“We couldn’t be more pleased to reopen this theater and serve the Santa Cruz community,” said Nancy Crane, vice president of operations for Santa Cruz Cinemas. “With the support of the mayor, the city council, the city’s economic development team and, of course, the community, we are confident this theater will remain in business for a long time.”

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Like other theaters locally and across the country, Santa Cruz Cinema is considering offering beer and wine sales to patrons, a move made possible by a city ordinance change approved last year shortly before the pandemic.

Beer and wine sales have “been critical for theaters around the country who are competing with streaming services and need to provide a more full-service experience,” Lipscomb said. “We are in discussions with the owner about permitting this expanded use for the new theater as part of their business model.”

Posters for the movies Mortal Kombat and Godzilla vs. Kong
Posters for the movies Mortal Kombat and Godzilla vs. Kong hang in the former Cinema 9 ahead of its opening under a new name and management on March 25, 2021.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Opening night for the theater, which is equipped with 3D technology on two of its nine screens, is set for Thursday, March 25, with films including “Nobody,” “Boogie,” and “Raya and the Last Dragon” on the show schedule.

Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. for the first show on March 25, and the multiplex will move to normal late-morning opening times the following day. Show schedules are being posted at santacruzcinema.com

Syufy Enterprises, owned by the Syufy family, has a long history in the movie business. But in 2006, the company divested Century Theatres and began diversifying into other hospitality and sports-related businesses.

Still, Syufy remains the largest owner and operator of drive-in movie theaters in the country, with four West Wind Drive-In locations in California (including one in San Jose), two in Nevada, and one in Arizona.

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The news that Santa Cruz Cinema will keep the Pacific Avenue multiplex humming elated downtown business owners, who see it as a vital part of what draws people to Santa Cruz.

“I literally squealed with excitement,” said Jennalee Dahlen, who owns Yoso Wellness Spa, which is just a short walk from the cinema. “I feel that this will be fantastic for our community and the downtown economy — and love that it is a local cinema stepping in to take this on.”

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