San Jose’s Camera 12 still dark as development plans stall
April 30, 2019, San Jose, Calif., Pedestrians walk past the closed Camera 12 Cinemas in Downtown San Jose on April 30. Photo by Kyle Martin

Nearly three years after announcing plans to get Downtown San Jose’s Camera 12 Cinemas back up and running, developers are still stuck in limbo.

And now the beloved theater remains dark — it’s anyone’s guess for how much longer. Development plans have stalled in part because of the building’s incredibly expensive maintenance needs.

“I think in the long term, we’re still exploring numerous options,” said developer Gary Dillabough, part owner of the cinema and its land with Imwalle Properties.

“We’re still looking at having a theater coming to the space,” Dillabough added. “There’s interest around that. But [we’re] also looking at if that could become an office tower in the future, [or] a residential tower.”

After spinning its last movie reel in Sept. 2016, the theater closed its doors because of revenue losses and maintenance costs, the Mercury News reported. Imwalle Properties and Dillabough bought the land parcel and the theater in 2017.

“Whatever decision we make, it’s going to have a 30 or 50 year ramification to that site, and we just want to make sure we make the right one,” Dillabough said. “We know having a theater there is really important to the city. But the project next door is for sale, so we want to see what happens with that project. I think that’s going to be something that’s going to help us drive to a direction once we better understand where that might be going.”

Don Imwalle Jr., president of Imwalle Properties, said reopening the space for any use has been “challenging,” but that it won’t always sit empty.

The building now has issues with the water system, including its corroding pipes, and needs mechanical maintenance on its escalator, among other capital improvements. The building’s pipes had burst before, flooding parts of the cinema.

“This site is not going to sit forever,” Imwalle told San José Spotlight. “It will be something.”

Imwalle said his primary interest since buying the site has been to reopen the theater and show movies again, but “currently, it’s not a safe space.”

“Basically we’d have to tear the entire sprinkler system out and replace it,” Imwalle said.

And that’s just one of the building’s many woes. In addition to corroding pipes, the site’s escalator is “problematic,” according to Dillabough.

And Imwalle said hiring planners and staff to work on an improvement plan would take over a month and “well over” a million dollars.

“Before we invest all the money in making it a safe space, we need to define what exactly that space is going to be,” Imwalle said.“Ultimately, our primary interest and focus is trying to reuse the building, but we can only hold out for that for so long.”

San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez, who represents downtown, could not be reached for comment.

San Jose Downtown Association, a nonprofit that has pushed to revitalize the city’s downtown core, declined to comment on Camera 12’s status.

Imwalle says that as the urban downtown area grows and changes, so do their plans for the space.

“It’s a very central site and if ultimately the market tells us it needs to be something else, then that’s the direction we’ll go,” Imwalle said. “It could be soon, but I think the inspiring part is Downtown San Jose is going to be so much more than any of us could imagine soon.”

But the developers’ first priority is finding a tenant to enter the space.

“I don’t want to say that a multiplex can’t work in downtown,” Imwalle said. “I wish we could activate more space in downtown and give it all away, but we don’t feel that the risk is worth it.”

Contact Kyle Martin at kylebmartin96@gmail.com or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.

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