Robert Redford's dream of converting the landmark Aero Theater in Santa Monica into a showplace for independent art films has run into a snag.

The actor and his Sundance Film Centers were planning to develop a chain of movie theaters throughout the country to bring foreign, art house and documentary films to mainstream America. The 61-year-old Aero Theater was to be one of them.

But to finance the nationwide project, Sundance formed a joint venture with General Cinema Corp. of Boston. In October, General Cinema filed for bankruptcy protection, throwing the Sundance project into limbo.

"The Aero project is on hold for the moment," confirmed Stephen Rivers, a spokesman for the Sundance Film Centers. "We will probably know more in the next month."

Sundance this year signed a 20-year lease with James Rosenfield, a developer who bought the 636-seat movie house in 1999. Sundance signed the lease with the intention of turning the Art Deco theater into a two-screen cinema. In addition, adjoining storefronts were to be converted into two restaurants, one with 25 seats and one with 50 seats.

Architectural plans were completed in the fall and submitted to the Santa Monica Planning Department, said Donna Jerex, the city's associate planner in charge of the project. A tentative hearing on the project has been scheduled for Jan. 10.

But Sundance's involvement is tenuous. In late November, the project's architects, Pleskow & Rael in Venice, notified the Santa Monica Planning Department that they would be the contact people on the project instead of Sundance Film Centers, Jerex said.

Architect Tony Pleskow said that Sundance is still involved in the project. But he referred all questions about the project's progress to Sundance Film Centers, which was circumspect about Aero's future. Rosenfield, the theater's owner, was unavailable for comment.

Sundance had similar movie house projects planned for Portland, Ore., and Philadelphia. Construction on the Portland cinema was 75 percent complete but abruptly ground to a halt recently.

Officials at the University of Pennsylvania, where Sundance was to build a seven-screen multiplex cinema and restaurants, said they are looking for another developer.

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