Controversial Castro Theatre plan heads for another committee vote Monday

San Francisco's Castro Theatre has been a neighborhood fixture since 1922, as iconic as the large rainbow flag on Market Street.

Now, the battle over the movie palace's place in the future is facing a critical crossroads.

The Board of Supervisor's three-member Land Use and Transportation Committee plans to hold a final vote next Monday, on a proposal by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman that has been amended to include preservation of "fixed theatrical seating configured in the movie-palace style," as part of the Castro Theatre's landmark designation. The committee held a preliminary vote on April 17. Supervisors Dean Preston and Aaron Peskin voted in favor of the amendment with Supervisor Myrna Melgar opposed.

Terry Asten Bennett is owner of Cliff's Variety store just a half block away from the Castro Theatre. She is speaking out along with more than 100 other Castro merchants who signed a petition in support of Another Planet Entertainment's proposal to renovate the old movie palace, which includes changes to the current seating.

At a public meeting last year, Another Planet Entertainment explained the need for the $10-12 million in proposed renovations.

While many community members agree the aging structure needs structural maintenance, HVAC system updates, and other work, the battle now centers over plans to replace the sloped seats on the main floor with removable seating that could allow for open space as a venue for concerts and other events.

Another Planet says expanding options is critical to stay in business, as movie attendance has dropped with customers opting for online streaming options.

"When they've brought in concerts and things like that you hear the younger generation of the neighborhood getting excited and wanting to be part of things and that's important too," said Asten Bennett.

She and other Castro merchants who signed the petitions say they worry about delays to the renovations, and the possibility that Another Planet Entertainment might give up if faced with more road blocks.

Some say they hope the controversy is resolved quickly, as the Castro Theatre's viability is important to a neighborhood where 25% of storefronts are now vacant.

"We are most interested in the benefits economically and culturally to the neighborhood. How will Another Planet's business model affect our daytime businesses, our nighttime businesses, our restaurants, our cafés and bars?" said Terrance Alan, President of the Castro Merchants.

Opponents of the renovation plan staged a "Save the Seats" protest this week, saying ripping up the seats would destroy the historic character of the venue. The movement has generated support from many A-list film industry figures such as Francis Ford Coppola.

Castro resident and activist Kevin Scott says he and other supporters of Another Planet's renovations are not giving up.

"The Board of Supervisors does not have to accept the recommendation from the Land Use committee, and then beyond that, it's up to I believe the permitting department to make the ultimate decision, and they also could choose to disregard the inclusion of fixed seats and the sloped floor," said Scott.

The next Land Use Committee meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 24 at 1:30pm. The issue could go before the entire Board of Supervisors for a vote on May 2.