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Muvico commits to keeping BayWalk location open

ST. PETERSBURG — BayWalk's 20-screen movie theater will remain open, its owner said this week, offering a rare piece of good news for the struggling retail complex.

The company that owns and maintains the theater, Muvico, had threatened late last year to shutter its BayWalk location.

Now Muvico officials say they are exploring possible improvements to the BayWalk location, including adding interactive games, a bar and restaurant and reserved seating.

However, company president Michael Whalen said he needed to see a new vision and capital backing before spending more on the BayWalk theater.

The Fort Lauderdale company announced a financial restructuring Wednesday that includes selling four of its 14 theaters nationwide, including three in South Florida.

The company now says it's debt-free and committed to staying in St. Petersburg. It will also keep open its one theater in Palm Harbor and two in Tampa. Muvico had been fighting eviction from the Starlight 20 theater in New Tampa, Hillsborough County court records show.

With this deal, "Muvico survives," Whalen told the Palm Beach Post.

The turn of events also could signal a change of fortune for BayWalk, which has struggled mightily amid a nationwide retail recession.

Mayor Rick Baker said Thursday that the city is committed to keeping Muvico a part of BayWalk.

"We're going to continue to work with them to make sure it stays open and remains successful on a long-term basis," Baker said.

In December, Whalen lamented the growing problems at BayWalk and said his company might pull out. He argued that the city had not done enough to keep away rowdy teenagers and protesters. And he said the development's original developers failed to attract proper retail tenants.

Whalen said that while ticket sales in the Tampa Bay area increased 3 percent over the past two years, sales at BayWalk have decreased 15 percent.

But city officials believed the movie theater remained successful. It is the only first-run movie house in St. Petersburg.

As part of its restructuring, Muvico said it also plans to replace all of the projectors at its Tampa Bay area locations.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.

Muvico commits to keeping BayWalk location open 03/19/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 20, 2009 12:33am]

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