After decades without a movie theater, Compton could get one

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Stopping near the city library on Compton Boulevard, Willie Patterson remembered the old movie theater that sat a few blocks away, on the boulevard's commercial strip. He says the moviehouse shut down about 30 years ago.

“There's nothing for the kids to do in Compton," said Patterson, who grew up here. "You can’t even eat in Compton. When you want to eat you have to go to the surrounding cities."

Until recently there’s been relatively little investment in this city, which is about one-third African American and almost two-thirds Latino. Jobs are scarce. While the city's unemployment rate has been falling, it's still one of Los Angeles County's highest.

But there's been more investment lately. And a movie theater could be in the works.

City officials are proposing a 70,000 square foot development with a movie theater and performing arts space; a public hearing on the theater plan was set for Tuesday night.

City officials didn't respond to calls, but the project is described in city documents as a "performing arts center project including a movie theater, parking lot and multi-purpose hall." The city council was set to vote Tuesday night on a resolution supporting the project.

Benjamin Holifield of the Compton Business Chamber of Commerce said a new theater would help stimulate the local economy. He said there's been talk of opening one since the late 1980s, but it never happened.

“It would bring in a number of jobs," Holifield said. "Not only a number of jobs, but it would just bring about a renewal of the community.”

Holifield pointed to projects like a new e-commerce facility that's in the works and the impending arrival of a new Wal-Mart as signs that an economic renewal in Compton is already underway.

University of Southern California sociologist Manuel Pastor agrees. At one time, the city's increasing unemployment and crime kept investment away. Even a Toyota dealership with easy freeway access had gone broke.

"But Compton today has changed dramatically," Pastor wrote in an email. "Part is the demographics. It's now majority Latino...and that is yet another source of consumer demand. It's also the case that it is part of a general trend of crime falling and a sense of security rising. More significantly, the city leadership seems to have realized a key thing: everyone knows Compton."

The city's influence on popular culture is undeniable, he said, having been home to artists like NWA and more recently Kendrick Lamar. Pastor said city leaders have pointed this out - including that  recently, when the NWA biopic "Straight Outta Compton" was released in theaters, there was no theater where locals could see it in Compton.

"There's a ways to go," Pastor said, "but it may be poised for the renaissance it always hoped for."

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