LARGO — A group of four retirees strolled happily out of the AMC Tri-City 8 movie theater the other day, laughing and talking, having spent the afternoon watching American Hustle on the big screen.
The two married couples in their late 60s often go to the movies together. So why pick the Tri-City 8?
"It's cheap. It's close to where we live. They have all the latest films," said Don Avondale of Largo. "A lot of seniors around here go to this movie house. We're all really going to miss it when it's gone."
The Tri-City 8, one of Pinellas County's oldest existing movie theaters, will close for good in one week. Its last day in business will be Sunday, Jan. 19.
The theater isn't part of the plans for a total redevelopment of Tri-City Plaza, an aging retail center at the northwest corner of U.S. 19 and East Bay Drive.
Construction is expected to start within months on a transformation of the shopping plaza, which is nearly 50 years old. The complex appears outdated, and its buildings and parking lots are oddly configured by today's standards.
"What's driving this is the age of the center and the funky layout. It's tired. It's time for a renovation on a major scale," said Paul Puma, regional president for Kimco Realty Corp., the shopping center's owner. "The location is very good."
According to Kimco and city documents, here are highlights of the plan:
• The work will be done in two phases, allowing some existing tenants to move into new quarters while the construction is ongoing.
• Several buildings will be demolished and replaced. Plans show large new retail buildings on the east side of the property and more new storefronts on the west side lining up alongside the existing Publix.
• The shopping plaza's Publix will stay. So will the Applebee's and Chili's restaurants on outparcels.
• The complex currently has about 218,000 square feet of space and should have nearly 230,000 when the work is done.
• Many of the new retail spaces will be larger than the existing ones and will be geared toward attracting larger tenants.
For the Tri-City Plaza's next incarnation, Kimco is lining up a mix of new tenants and existing ones. The landlord is currently securing leases with major new tenants, said Puma, who declined to be more specific at this time.
As for the AMC Tri-City 8, it's getting caught up in an industry-wide trend of older, smaller multiplexes shutting their doors.
Although Tri-City Plaza opened in 1966, the movie theater was built in the 1980s, around the same time that AMC built the Seminole 8. At the time, AMC also had movie theaters at Tyrone Square and Clearwater and Countryside malls. All of those theaters are gone now.
Competing with gleaming new multiplexes that boast stadium seating, the Tri-City has survived until now as an inexpensive option. Movie tickets there are $4 during the daytime and $6 after 6 p.m. The theater also has been hosting a raucous, live Rocky Horror Picture Show production on Saturday nights.
Kimco, which is one of Florida's biggest retail landlords, hasn't yet gotten approval from Largo officials for its plans for Tri-City Plaza. Kimco is still in talks with the city about some relatively minor details, both sides say.
These days, the shopping center is emptying out. Many storefronts are vacant, and many of the remaining restaurants and businesses are moving.
"They couldn't really offer us the same location, and they were planning to raise our rent quite a bit," said Juan Carvojal, administrator of Amazon Animal Hospital, which is moving to Roosevelt Boulevard.
"We will be here through April, and possibly for the rest of the year. Maybe longer," said Benito Hasugluw, manager of CiCi's Pizza.
Contact Mike Brassfield at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151.