Complaints about New Tampa theater draws City Council chairman’s attention

City Council Chairman Luis Viera wrote to AMC corporate headquarters asking to discuss the theater’s upkeep.
After receiving multiple calls and emails from residents, Tampa City Council chairman Luis Viera wrote a letter to AMC’s corporate management asking to discuss the New Tampa theater.
After receiving multiple calls and emails from residents, Tampa City Council chairman Luis Viera wrote a letter to AMC’s corporate management asking to discuss the New Tampa theater. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Dec. 12, 2019

NEW TAMPA — The theater at Highwoods Preserve has been the movie theater for New Tampa for two decades. But complaints by moviegoers about the theater’s deteriorating conditions have been the subject of critical posts on social media.

Last month, Luis Viera, the Tampa City Council chairman whose district includes the theater, wrote to AMC’s corporate management in Kansas, stating the building is “unkempt and not properly reflecting the exterior standards of New Tampa.”

On Nextdoor and Facebook, social media posts have lamented the condition of the AMC Highwoods 20 theater: one called it “beyond disgusting,” another said the building was falling apart and another wanted to know, “what the heck happened to this place? It’s so gross!!”

After receiving multiple calls and emails from residents, city council chairman Viera said he wrote asking to discuss the theater.

“Please know that I regularly visit your establishment and have gone there since I was in college,” he wrote in the letter. “The theater has always been a place I have enjoyed visiting.”

But, he wrote, “the vegetation surrounding the building and the exterior of the facade itself are both in desperate need of attention. Not only does the deterioration of the property affect your business, but it also hurts neighboring businesses and our neighborhood as a whole.”

Hilesca Hidalgo Cestero, who left a one star review of the establishment on Facebook, called the facility “filthy.” Cestero, who lives between the AMC theater and the Cobb Grove 16 Theater in Wesley Chapel, used to frequent the AMC theater with her kids.

But she found roaches there once, and when she complained, she said she was told the issue had been addressed. She returned to find the same problem and stopped going.

“I don’t particularly like roaches,” she said. “It would be nice if they fix it up and make it nice and clean again for the residents. This area is growing. I’d go again if they fixed it up. Who doesn’t like going to the movies with family?”

Still, the establishment is still listed as a neighborhood favorite by many New Tampa neighborhoods on Nextdoor and it’s loyal fan base remains unfazed.

“I think it’s nice in terms of just having a place to hang out,” Chelsea Ayala, 14, said. “It’s nice enough for a movie theater.”

Tiesha Harris, 41, said she’s been to the theater a few times over the last 10 years.

“It’s maybe one of the best theaters around this area,” she said.

The theater, which opened in 1999 as a Muvico theater, was sold to Carmike Cinema in 2013. Carmike was bought out by AMC in 2017.

Viera said he met with managers of the theater locally who said they’d take the issue up with the corporate AMC offices and circle back in a few months.

AMC did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The theater is not the only code enforcement issue Viera’s heard of in New Tampa. He recently sent a similar letter to the owner of the now-shuttered Sweetbay supermarket. Its parking lot is frequently filled with debris, and Home Depot and Angelo’s commercial trucks are parked there overnight.

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The grocery closed in 2013, but the tenants are locked into a lease until November 2020.

John Neukamm, the attorney for the owner, said the situation with maintenance has become somewhat awkward for his client — who lives in California — to enforce with tenants who are no longer there.

He said they prefer to deal with maintenance issues proactively rather than deal with code enforcement: they’ve received complaints about debris and the trucks since 2015.

“We’re trying to address it the best we can given the circumstances,” he said.

They’ve cleared out overgrown landscaping and served notices to the trucks and retroactively billed the tenants, Neukamm said, but ultimately he said the upkeep should be the responsibility of the tenants.

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“They haven’t been a good community steward, my opinion,” Neukamm said. “They wouldn’t let an operating Winn Dixie store deteriorate like this.”

Viera, who said he has prioritized code enforcement issues across Tampa since being elected, said he’s been on several code enforcement ride alongs. Recently, a building at 2010 E. Busch Blvd. was demolished. The building that was once a China Buffet near the World of Beer on Fowler Avenue was sold to a Chick-fil-A after Tampa Innovation took up the issue and worked with local government on code enforcement issues, Viera said.

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“Proper code enforcement makes the difference between a community going down or a community on the upswing,” Viera said. “... No person should have to raise their kids near a building like a building that was the China Buffet or some of the hotels on Busch Boulevard. You have to make sure all areas of the city have respect and you treat all areas as if you live there.”