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Trio have big plans for new dinner theater

It has been a skating rink, a country and western dance hall and, most recently, a church.

Now, the 20,000-square-foot Joyland III on U.S. 19 in Hudson will become a dinner theater.

"We signed the papers today," said John Timpanelli, owner of Tin Pan Alley Productions and a familiar face to theatergoers in the area.

He and Nick and Sal Sessa, owners of Suncoast Skating and Entertainment Center, signed a six-year lease with Joyland owners Walter and Betty Preston of St. Petersburg. They have an option to buy any time in the first three years.

Timpanelli and the Sessas say they will spend $200,000 renovating, remodeling and decorating the hall to turn it into a dinner theater, with luxury touches, that will showcase local, regional, national and perhaps international stars in six shows a week.

The opening is scheduled for Oct. 5, Timpanelli said.

Initial plans call for buffet matinees on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, a comedy show on Thursday nights and "big names" on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Sessas and Timpanelli have been drawing 500 to 700 people to comedy and variety shows at the Sessas' skating center on County Line Road for more than two years.

"We want to concentrate our skating rink on skating and hockey," Nick Sessa said.

Timpanelli said he plans to keep his Tin Pan Alley talent agency going.

"These are all separate entities," he said.

The new partners say ticket prices for a buffet and show should be $15 to $30, with big-name entertainers costing more. Timpanelli plans to use the contacts he has made during more than two decades in show business to line up entertainers.

The main room is licensed to hold 1,100 people seated at tables, but the partners' goal is to seat 400 to 700 patrons for the variety shows and 200 on comedy night. Most of the shows will have a buffet dinner, but a few may have drinks only, "like a Las Vegas," Timpanelli said. The partners also purchased the Prestons' liquor license for the Hudson location.

The building will be renamed either Tin Pan Alley Show Palace, Tin Pan Alley Dinner Theater or perhaps Tin Pan Alley Copa Dinner Theater. Adding "copa" to the name would evoke the image of the Copa Cabana, a famed entertainment venue, Timpanelli said.

Buffet dinners will be prepared by a caterer.

"We're negotiating with three different ones right now, and we want the best," Timpanelli said.

Each show will have two buffet lines, and patrons will be called by table numbers. All seating will be reserved.

The planned renovations include a new parking lot, a coat of paint, new sound and lighting, a curtain on the 40-by-25-foot stage, new chairs and tables, and updated dressing rooms.

"We want (the stars) to feel when they come in here that they're in Carnegie Hall," Timpanelli said.

The partners have hired Mary's Enterprises of Toledo, Ohio, and Regan's Travel of New Port Richey to bring busloads of patrons from retirement communities and neighboring areas to the new venue.

"We're not depending just on the local market, though they will be an important part of our operation," Timpanelli said.

The partners declined to disclose the monthly lease payments.