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Palm Springs film festival offers $1.6M to lease Plaza Theatre for 25 years

The fundraising efforts to completely restore the historic Plaza Theatre in downtown Palm Springs are ongoing, but this week a new idea got thrown into the mix: a decades-long lease to the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Since 2019, former Palm Springs councilman J.R. Roberts has been leading the charge to restore the Plaza back to its original 1936 condition.

"It's been such an important gem and such an important piece of our legacy and history," Roberts said.

Thursday night, city council approved $50,000 for upgrades and repairs to the theater to be completed in time for the new Oasis Music Festival this October, for which the Plaza will serve as a central hub.

"It's sort of a way to maybe kick off again everybody's love for the theater and potentially start the fundraising again," Roberts said. "We were only in it for a few months when the curtain came down."

The pandemic became a big roadblock for the restoration's $10 million fundraising goal. Some of the major pledges pulled their funding and now just $160,000 is in the bank right now.

This week, Palm Springs film festival chairman Harold Matzner offered the city $1.6 million to lease the theater for the next 25 years – through 2046 – bringing film festival programming and other events.

"I think we're in the best position to bring traffic to the theater," Matzner said. "During the film festival ... I would expect to be able to sell out that theater four times a day, which is 2,400 people."

Downtown business owner Jeffrey Bernstein said he supports the film festival activating the theater quickly. "I don't see a lot of other people stepping up right now," he said. "If they had a venue, they would find programming throughout the year – including the summer months, when we especially need crowds downtown."

But Roberts said the film festival's remodel could mean losing the historic value of the theater. "I believe that our history is part of our brand," he said. "It''s a big part of who we are."

Matzner said that's an effort he doesn't want to get in the way of. "We intend to stand down if J.R. Roberts intends to go forward with the program," he said.

The city's focus right now is getting the theater ready for the October music festival, which includes minor cosmetic fixes and any major health and safety issues that need to be addressed.

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Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.

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