CLEARWATER — Can Westfield Countryside mall really add a 12-screen movie theater, restaurants and still find a place for everyone to park?
We're going to find out.
The mall is about to break ground on a state-of-the-art cineplex that will open in spring 2012. There's a lot of excitement about it because this will be the first time in nearly a decade that Clearwater has had a first-run movie theater.
The Cobb multiplex will be housed in a nearly 70,000-square-foot addition to be built at the mall's southwest corner, near Sears. The theater will be on the addition's second floor. The ground floor beneath it will have room for several restaurants and stores — none of which have been named yet.
"We think this is going to be great, not only for the mall but for the community," said mall marketing director Kelly Edwards. "We have full approval from the city, and we are currently working toward a construction start in the very near future."
According to records obtained from Clearwater's Planning Department, the mall will add 99 parking spaces to prepare for the addition of a 2,000-seat theater.
So what will that mean when moviegoers decide to see next year's summer blockbusters at the brand new Cobb Countryside 12?
Mall officials say they're confident that there will be enough parking.
"We have a good-sized parking lot," Edwards said. "All of our entrances are nicely spread throughout the perimeter of the entire mall, so you're never parked far from an entrance."
The mall currently has 5,620 parking spaces, and it will reconfigure its lot to create 5,719 spaces, city records show. The city is requiring the mall to maintain its current parking ratio — 4.4 spaces per 1,000 square feet of interior floor space.
"There's a huge amount of parking at JCPenney and Sears that is hardly ever used," said city planner Scott Kurleman, who compiled a 152-page report about the movie theater project. "There shouldn't be that great of an impact because they'll still have the same ratio of parking."
To carve out another 99 spaces, the mall will adjust the angle of some parking rows, and will also shrink its spaces from 10 by 20 feet to a size of 9 by 18 feet, which is allowed by the city's codes, Kurleman said. The 80-acre mall property is hemmed in on all sides and can't really expand its parking lot, he said.
Old theaters closed
Of course, Countryside mall used to have its own movie theater until about a decade ago. But that theater had half as many screens as the new one will. The old AMC Countryside 6 was in an outbuilding at the east end of the mall, where Lifestyle Family Fitness is located now.
The old theater closed in 2000 along with a five-screen AMC theater at Clearwater Mall. Then a small United Artists theater on U.S. 19 near Countryside mall went dark in 2002.
Clearwater's older movie houses were made obsolete by the splashy new Woodlands Square 20, which opened in 2000 in Oldsmar with stadium seating and high-quality sound.
The Woodlands megaplex continues to attract big weekend crowds to this day, as Clearwater residents have to drive to Oldsmar, Largo, Palm Harbor or even Tampa to go to the movies.
Countryside mall, which is chiefly known for its ice skating rink, says its new multiplex will incorporate the latest technology and amenities, including:
• Stadium seating with 18-inch risers and 4-foot row spacing.
• Digital projection with 3D capabilities.
• Extra-wide rocking chair seating with high backs and tilt-up cup holder armrests.
• Closed captioning for the hearing impaired.
Nine stores in Countryside mall have moved or closed to make way for the multiplex, leaving behind empty storefronts for the moment. American Greetings and Somnis Sleep Systems have closed. Atomic Tattoos, Dollar Value, Payless Shoes, Radio Shack and T-Shirt Diner have moved. Dairy Queen and White Fin Sushi have temporarily closed but will reopen this spring.
The Countryside multiplex will be Cobb Theatres' first foray into Pinellas County. The Alabama-based company operates the Grove 16 Theatre off Interstate 75 and State Road 54 in Wesley Chapel.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151.