Terms of a lease agreement were not disclosed by La Jolla-based Backlot Hospitality, run by Adolfo Fastlicht, and NTC Foundation, the nonprofit that oversees the arts and cultural district spanning 26 buildings on 28 acres within the former Naval Training Center.
Officials said Backlot Hospitality plans to open a new venue called TheLOT/Liberty Station, making use of the 20,000-square-foot auditorium that originally opened in 1941.
Renovations will begin in April and the venue is set to open in late autumn, with offerings geared to special events, art, film and food.
The venue will include six cinemas with seating for 50 to 100 people, with a new outdoor covered lounge for dining and socializing overlooking the historic Luce Court between Rosecrans Street and Truxton Road.
The 1,800-seat Luce Auditorium, located on the west side of Truxton Road north of Dewey Road, presents some challenges to redevelopment given its configuration. The auditorium has no lobby space, too-deep wall-to-wall seating, a stage that’s too small and too high, marginal acoustics and out-of-date restrooms.
“Luce Auditorium has been one of the most challenging projects for us because of the renovation costs and complexities of the expansive space,” noted Alan Ziter, executive director of the NTC Foundation.
“Backlot Hospitality is committed to preserving Luce Auditorium’s exterior architectural features with a first-class adaptive reuse, while returning the building to its historic use of exhibiting films through the creation of a new cinema center, which was high on the list of the community’s wish list for Liberty Station,” said Ziter.
“This promises to further enliven the NTC Arts and Culture District in profound ways.”
Ziter said it’s hoped the new theater complex will “encourage new visitors to explore the many nearby museums, art galleries, restaurants and studios throughout our vibrant creative campus. This is not only a new benefit to the NTC Arts and Culture District, but all of Liberty Station and the entire Point Loma community,” Ziter said.
“What we’re creating with TheLOT/Point Loma is not just cookie-cutter cinema,” said Faslicht. “We’re launching a new concept and a new experience in a perfect location that will become a community hub.”
Fastlicht has a similar project, Boffo Cinemas, under construction in the Village of La Jolla, anticipated to open by the end of summer.
Boffo signed a 20-year lease to transform the retail space at 7611 Fay Ave. from a high-end market into a premium multiplex theater.
Fastlicht has said Boffo will offer “reserved seating, online reservations and an augmented menu including items like sushi, paninis, wraps, sliders, salads and pizza.”
Luce Auditorium, the former seat of classroom instruction for thousands of Navy recruits at the former Naval Training Center, has hosted a few weekend movies and shows headlining wartime luminaries like Bob Hope and Nat “King” Cole.
The former NTC San Diego base opened in 1916 and was decommissioned and handed over to the city in 1997, with groundbreaking for new development taking place in 2001.
NTC Foundation was established in 2000 by the city of San Diego to oversee culture-oriented renovations and programming in a portion of the former Navy training base closed by the military in 1997.
The foundation has completed work on 16 of the 26 buildings within the cultural district, which is now home to nearly 80 museums, galleries, artist studios and related creative and educational spaces.
Other portions of Liberty Station have been master-planned by local developer Corky McMillin Cos., which has brought in several office, retail and other commercial and education-related tenants. McMillin has also overseen residential and hotel developments in portions of the former Navy base property, which spans more than 500 acres.