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By Collin Breaux

Plans for a four-story parking structure and two-story retail and office building to be constructed at what is now the Camino Real Playhouse continue to move forward.

The San Juan Capistrano City Council gave their approval on Nov. 14 to a sale agreement that will see local developer Dan Almquist acquire the theater and adjoining parking lot property at 31776 El Camino Real.

City officials did not extensively comment on the development agreement, though Mayor Pro Tem Howard Hart and Councilmember-Elect John Campbell—who is also a board member and treasurer for Camino Real Playhouse—had previously and variously explained that the city is mandated to sell the property by the state and Almquist’s plans are more favorable than an affordable housing structure with no parking.

The current Playhouse building will be demolished to make way for the coming new development. Though there has been talk of a new performing arts center being built in downtown San Juan Capistrano, that aspect has not been included in this specific project. Almquist has continually vowed to bring about a new center and is seeking funding for that portion.

“The (City) Council-approved project is a two-story, 27,000 square-foot retail, restaurant and office building; a four-story, 196-space parking structure; and associated landscaping, light and site enhancements,” Project Manager Charlie View said.

The sales price for the property is $1.33 million. Construction on the project is scheduled to begin within 36 months, and then finish within 24 months after beginning.

The Camino Real Playhouse will be allowed to continue operations on a temporary basis before the redevelopment.

“It’s a well-regarded local theater operation,” View said. “The (agreement) calls for them to stay in place until 30 days before demolition of the Playhouse. Mr. Almquist has an ongoing relationship with the Playhouse and has kept the staff informed of the process.”

Playhouse President Leslie Eisner had previously said promises to preserve the Playhouse were false. In an email sent to patrons days after the City Council meeting, Eisner announced “with great sadness” that they were informing people that the city “has finalized its plans to demolish” the venue.

“The new proposed performing arts center plan, if ever realized, is years away from fruition, and the Playhouse has been notified that it will neither be the managing entity, nor a resident theatre company in that facility,” the Playhouse message said. “However, we are determined to stay alive—in San Juan or, if necessary, in another local community. It is our mission to continue to provide you, our patrons, with high-quality productions far beyond the usual notion of ‘community theatre.’ ”

The Playhouse has initiated a capital campaign where people can donate online at caminorealplayhouse.org to preserve the venue. The Playhouse intends to find a new home and convert any such new property into a “world class” theatre.

“We ask all friends of the Playhouse—all of you who have been moved, entertained, beguiled and inspired by its productions over the past 33 years—to step up in this time of unprecedented need,” the Playhouse’s statement said. “The campaign for the Playhouse is one for our very survival. Thank you to those who have donated to us in the past. Your support means more than we can say.”

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com.

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