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January 18, 2023

Lights to dim at Grand Illusion?

Real Estate Editor

Photo via Grand Illusion Cinema [enlarge]
With its 53-year history, the GI bills itself as the city’s longest-running independent cinema.

Yet another art-house cinema is on the block, with redevelopment likely to follow. This time it's the Grand Illusion Cinema, at 4756 University Way N.E. in the University District, that recently went on the market. Kidder Mathews is asking $2.8 million, on behalf of the longtime family owner.

The corner, at Northeast 50th Street, offers 4,120 square feet. Like other sites along most of University Way, aka the Ave, the corner's zoning is still capped at 65 feet. Seattle City Council has for years been punting or postponing an upzone for that strip. The bulk of the U District was upzoned in 2017 and 2019, in anticipation of the coming light rail line.

Under current zoning, the listing from KM's Kevin Simpson-Verger and Matt McLennan estimates that a six-story building could yield 31 apartments. (An ambitious buyer would consider the separately owned rooming house and restaurant property next door; and, south of that, the 18-unit apartment building is also now on the market.)

The nonprofit Grand Illusion began life in 1970 as The Movie House and soon thereafter assumed its present name. It changed hands in 1997 and 2004, and the 70-seat, single-screen venue now operates with a mostly volunteer staff. It shows mainly repertory fare, with tonight's feature being 1968's The Movie Orgy, from Joe Dante. Longtime manager Brian Alter recently disclosed on the cinema website that he was retiring early this year — not necessarily a related development.

The century-old two-story complex, which most would consider a tear-down, is also home to Arepa Venezuelan Kitchen and an electronics repair shop. KM says all tenants have two more years on their leases. Rents are well below market rate.

Not far away, the former Seven Gables and Guild 45th properties are also destined to become apartments. Back on the Ave, the three-screen Varsity is on a short-term lease. Also surely doomed, it's part of a 16,480-square-feet foot assemblage by University District Parking Associates. There, too, the current zoning remains at 65 feet.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the former Harvard Exit shuttered in 2015, and is now home to the Mexican Consulate. And the Cinerama, owned by the estate of Paul Allen, remains mysteriously dark in Belltown.


Brian Miller can be reached by email at brian.miller@djc.com or by phone at (206) 219-6517.

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