Former Magic Johnson Theatres get a new operator

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Corey Moore/KPCC

Banners at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza promise a new, state-of-the-art cinema multiplex to replace the Magic Johnson Theatres, which closed over the summer.

Starting 15 years ago, the Magic Johnson Theatres became a popular fixture in a South Los Angles neighborhood. It closed over the summer.

Developers today promised a bigger, better multiplex under a new name.

Developers spent a few months soliciting potential operators they said could update the theater at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. They decided on Rave Motion Pictures, based in Dallas, Texas.

Project planner and businessman Ken Lombard initially worked with Magic Johnson when he opened the first of his movie theater partnerships in the mid-1990s. Lombard says he’s looking forward to the next phase.

“Anytime we stand in front of the theater we have a number of community folks that drive by asking questions as to when it’s going to open," Lombard said. "The community is extremely vested in this theater. This is their theater. So we fully anticipate the same if not higher levels of support then what we saw in the beginning.”

Johnson introduced the multiplex near Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Blvd to moviegoers not quite three years after the LA riots. Most South LA neighborhood theaters had closed long before then.

This theater experienced its share of growing pains. Several years ago, Johnson sold the multiplex to AMC. That lease ended in June of this year. Owners opted not to renew it. They said the place was deteriorating and was unable to keep up with high-end multiplexes. The new operators plan to change that.

Garry Walker, who lives in the neighborhood, says he'll believe that when he sees it. He watched as workers hang a couple of flashy banners on the empty multiplex. The posters promise a new state-of-the-art movie experience.

“When they tore it apart I said 'Are they going to build a new one?' I’m like, ‘When?’ That’s been a couple months now, so I’ve been waiting for it to open back up," said Walker. "Don’t have to go all the way to Burbank. I can come here. I always came here. And I’ve been seeing the plans for a while but I didn’t see any construction going on.”

Walker should get his wish come January. Developers will begin to transform the theater with 3D technology, stadium seating and digital projection and sound. Owners expect the theater to reopen Memorial Day of next year.

The estimated cost of the renovation project: $10 million.

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