WESLEY CHAPEL — There are 40,000 movie screens in the United States, including 51 in Pasco County. Get ready for a few more.
The developers of the Shops at Wiregrass mall are planning a 1,035-seat cinema as the cornerstone of a residential and commercial development immediately east of the mall, on the north side of State Road 56. The still-unnamed project also would include 250 upscale apartments, as many as four restaurants and nearly 60,000 square feet of stores, including a 30,000-square-foot specialty grocery, according to the preliminary site plans filed with Pasco County.
Developer Forest City Enterprises is in advanced negotiations with a theater operator, said Abbas Hasan, the company's manager of planning and development.
"We feel there is a lack of cinemas in the region, and we've been talking with a very nice operator who is very interested in the site because of all the growth around it and because it's next to the Shops at Wiregrass," Hasan said. "And they like that we're adding to the population by adding apartments."
At 1,035 seats in a 39,000-square-foot building, the proposed cinema would be less than half the size of Cobb Theatres' Grove of Wesley Chapel about 4 miles to the north. That complex has 16 screens and 2,738 seats.
This isn't the first time a movie theater and the Wiregrass brand have been intertwined. A decade ago, Marquee Cinemas of West Virginia announced a 14-screen theater for the Shops at Wiregrass but withdrew the plans several months later after AMC said it would build an 18-screen multiplex at the nearby Cypress Creek Town Center. That cinema also has not come to fruition, although the town center developers can build up to a 4,000-seat theater, according to zoning approvals.
The last theater to open in the region was the Studio Movie Grill at University Mall in Tampa 15 months ago. It took over cinema space that had been shuttered twice previously by prior operators.
A start date for the 34-acre Wiregrass project is contingent upon Forest City obtaining an Army Corps of Engineers permit. The developers propose to build 10.6 acres of wetlands north of the site to compensate for "impacts to 4.81 acres of aquatic resources." The public comment period on that permit application opened last week and continues through Feb. 10.
"It's a waiting game right now," Hasan said.
In the meantime, the company is attempting to secure permits from Pasco County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District in advance of the federal permit. Hasan said the developers are optimistic the Army Corps permit will be approved by the end of 2016; construction would begin immediately afterward and take about a year. That puts the theater premiere nearly two years away, if all goes according to plan.
The other elements of the proposed complex include apartments developed by the NRP group of Cleveland, a mix of sit-down and quick-service restaurants, a handful of other stores and the specialty grocery.
Hasan would not identify the grocer except to characterize it as something currently unavailable in the area.
A proposal from Regency Centers in the Cypress Creek Town Center, just a few miles to the west, also includes a 28,000-square-foot organic grocery at the northeast corner of SR 56 and Wesley Chapel Boulevard (County Road 54).
Just east of the Forest City proposal, construction crews are installing drainage and doing other site work for a retail complex called Wiregrass Commons on 56 by the Dowd Companies of West Palm Beach. Preliminary site plans and marketing material say it will include a 45,000-square-foot grocery store, additional retail space of nearly 24,000 square feet, 439 parking spaces and three out-parcels totaling another 4.5 acres.
The area is attractive for commercial development because of the proximity of Interstate 75 and SR 56, a new Pasco-Hernando State College campus, multiple ongoing and planned housing projects, the current expansion of the Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel and the just-completed negotiations between Pasco County and the state Department of Transportation to extend a multilane SR 56 eastward to Zephyrhills.
"There's a lot of good things happening," Hasan said. "We're just glad to be a part of it."