TAMPA — A toilet sits a short distance from where the second-floor projection booth was located when Springs Theatre still showed movies.
“The projectionist could do his thing while he did his thing,” Jackson Danger said. “It was convenient for him.”
He and his father, Ryan Danger, are restoring former movie theater in Sulphur Springs, which is nearly 100 years old.
The first floor will be an events space and Danger Distillery, with a tasting room for their line of liquors currently being produced by 82° West Distilling in Seminole Heights. And the second floor will be converted into a three-bedroom living space that could be used as a bridal suite, making the building a “convenient” one-stop shop for weddings, building owner Ryan Danger said.
The Dangers — yes, that’s their real name — purchased the building in November 2021 with for $1 million. Since, they have invested $400,000 into the build out and could spend as much as another $1.6 million.
“We’re begging, borrowing and stealing,” Ryan Danger said with a laugh. “We have to do everything the hard way. We could have found a different building, but this one felt right. It has the high ceilings that we need. It’s within city limits so we can become a destination. And it gives us the opportunity to do something positive for Sulphur Springs.”
From the late-1800s through mid-1900s, Sulphur Springs was a premiere tourist destination.
“It was the it neighborhood. People from the entire southeast came here to vacation,” Ryan Danger said. “People believed the spring could heal them.”
News archives say that residents and tourists filled jugs of sulphur water from the spring. The community became known as “Florida’s Coney Island,” boasting a roller coaster, an alligator farm, a dog track, a luxury hotel and what might have been the state’s first indoor shopping center. There was a 40-foot water slide that emptied into a pool filled from a spring without sulphur.
Springs Theatre opened in 1944, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s website, but Tampa Bay Times archives say it might have been 1938.
Tourism started to dry up in the 1960s, partly because the springs had bacterial outbreaks and also because other tourist attractions sprung up. That began an economic tailspin from which the neighborhood has still not recovered.
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The theater is one of the few remaining buildings from the neighborhood’s heyday.
It was reinvented as an auction house in the 1960s but returned to its roots in the 1970s, showing G-rated movies. By the 1980s, Times archives say it had moved on to X-rated films in the 1980s.
The building then became a printing press and, in 1999, a recording studio, which is when the Danger family became associated with it.
“I had a pro audio repair shop,” Ryan Danger said. “So, we fixed recording equipment here and fell in love with the old building.”
The only alteration they plan for the exterior is a digital marquee.
“We want it to keep the original look,” Jackson Danger said. “Inside, we will keep all the brick walls. We want it to look as original as we can.”
They hope to have the distillery open within a year and then move on to the second floor and maybe purchase surrounding buildings, possibly for more event space or a barrel room.
“I walk the neighborhood and pick up trash and neighbors thank me for what we are doing,” Ryan Danger said. “We might not be done. There is more we can do.”