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LOS ANGELES-Many developers here and in other parts of the Southland are holding their collective breath, waiting to see if they’ll be effected by the bankruptcy filing by the Edwards theater chain that was announced late Wednesday.

Edwards Theatres Circuit Inc. is the Southland’s largest chain. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Wednesday in Santa Ana, saying it is saddled with hundreds of millions in debt and reeling from the effects of an industrywide building binge that has gone on for five years.

The 70-year-old Newport Beach-based company simultaneously announced the immediate closure of four theater complexes in Orange County, San Diego and the Inland Empire of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The company says it will keep open 70 theaters with 736 screens during its bankruptcy restructuring. But that’s little solace to many mall owners and other retail investors who already count Edwards among their tenants, or who are planning projects that would involve the construction of new Edwards theaters.

Developer Jerry Snyder of LA-based J.H. Snyder Co. has already taken the unusual step of notifying GlobeSt.com and other real estate media that he recently canceled the lease his firm signed with Edwards to operate the multiplex cinema at Snyder’s Howard Hughes Promenade retail/entertainment complex on LA’s Westside.

“We are currently in negotiations with three other operators and expect to announce a new operator shortly,” Snyder said in his statement, noting that the project continues on schedule for a February opening.

At The River, Snyder’s new retail/entertainment complex in the upscale Inland Empire community of Rancho Mirage, a lease agreement was signed with Resort Theatres Inc., replacing Edwards, he says.

Jack Kyser, chief economist of the nonprofit Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., tells GlobeSt.com that he wasn’t surprised by the bankruptcy filing. “Everybody had to have theaters with all the bells and whistles, like stadium seating and the latest sound systems, so they ended up obsoleting their older theaters,” Kyser says.

Last year alone saw the addition of more than 3,000 screens to the nation’s market, bringing the total to 37,185 screens, according to the North Hollywood-based National Association of Theatre Owners. Stephen Coffey, president of Edwards, the nation’s 11th largest chain, estimates there’s only enough demand for 25,000 to 30,000 screens.

Coffey adds that theater operations at Edwards will continue unchanged. The family-owned chain ended 1999 with a net loss of $40 million on revenue of $299 million, according to the filing.

The bankruptcy filing by Edwards comes two weeks after Columbus, GA-based Carmike Cinemas Inc., with 2,750 screens, took similar action. Carmike is one of the nation’s largest chains, ranking third behind Regal Cinemas Inc. and Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corp.

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