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Residents fight to save theater

After Sunday's emergency meeting, a last-minute plea will be made to Carmike Cinemas to try to halt today's planned demolition.

After 51 years of movies and memories, the Pasco Twin Theater stood proud on Sunday, the last day before its scheduled demolition.

"Save the theater!" came the rallying cry from 7-year-old James Reichow outside the downtown Dade City landmark. Around him, protesters brandished signs and drew honks from supportive passers-by in the afternoon heat, gathering momentum for a last-ditch meeting at City Hall at 8 p.m. Sunday.

The emergency meeting, theater supporters hoped, would somehow prevent the Twin's current owners, Carmike Cinemas, and the lot's future owners, Community National Bank of Zephyrhills, from demolishing the city's only moviehouse today to make way for a bank branch.

At a packed meeting where residents spilled out onto the sidewalk of City Hall, supporters got a glimmer of hope. Bank representatives agreed to call the theater's seller, Georgia-based Carmike, and ask them to stave off the demolition for two weeks.

The hope is to move at least the theater's art deco facade, possibly to a city-owned site.

But Mike Ward, senior vice president with Community National, made it clear that the prospects for stopping demolition were slim.

"We can make the plea," he told the audience. "We can make a phone call if that's what you want . . . But Carmike has no incentive to give us any more time because they have other buyers. The issue is in their court and we have no control over Carmike."

For their part, bank officials have pledged to be an asset to the community, offering a human touch where competitors are automated, serving populations other banks often miss and blending in with the city's architecture.

But Sunday night, Dade City and Zephyrhills residents, sad or angry that progress would elbow aside a piece of their childhood, turned out in force to the emergency meeting, hoping to secure a place for the theater in their children's future.

Commissioner Scott Black seized on a compromise position and asked for a delay to make a more reasoned decision.

"I like the comment Margaret Angel made that this town is big enough for both a theater and a bank," he said. "I want to do everything we can to find a location where all of us can come out of this thing winners. If we could buy some time, tonight (we could) explore this issue more fully and we could see what grants are available."

One of the options Black wanted to weigh was proposed by Eileen Herman, the first person to speak to commissioners Sunday night. She recommended moving the theater's facade and potentially building a theater-auditorium behind it. But the cost could possibly top $500,000, she said. It's not clear where that money would come from.

Herman spent her day putting together a proposal. Sunday afternoon after the protesters had gone, she entered the theater. There was still loose change rattling around up front where the wooden seats used to be, leftover from Thursday night's last show, Runaway Bride. Herman, standing under the lobby dome adorned with glow-in-the-dark stars, peppered an employee of a Tampa moving company with questions.

Could you move the whole building? How much would it cost in a worst-case scenario? What about moving just the facade?

Her anxiousness was fueled by the fact that demolition was set to begin this morning, and many big questions remained.

All day long, people with cameras captured every angle of the art deco building. Some simply came by to say goodbye.

A pregnant Cindy Kirpatrick pushed her daughter, Kathy, in a stroller and stopped to admire what had been a childhood fixture.

"I'll never be able to take her here," she said, gesturing at her daughter. "Not to the matinee or the Wednesday morning movie.

"When we were kids I just lived a few blocks from here and me and my friends would walk here. Right next door was ABC pizza and they had all these video games. It was sort of like an arcade. So you could just walk right over there. We weren't hanging out in the streets. We had somewhere to go."

Ted Johnson, 38, was angling to salvage a row of seats from the balcony. There, he saw his first movie, The Sound of Music.

"A lot of people are saying they're not going to do business with (the new bank)," said Johnson, a lifelong Dade City resident.

"I'm certainly not," said his friend Fred Van Norman. "It's going to completely shut down the night life in Dade City _ what little there is. What I can't understand is if we do away with the theater, what's going to be left here besides banks, convenience stores and antiques?"

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