TAMPA – For over a decade, Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco was a regular at the movie theater in Centro Ybor.As early as 2004, before the theater closed half its screens, it was a go-to stop in Ybor after dining or seeing family at the Italian Club. “I loved the convenience” Maniscalco said.
But at the end of next month — after a few showings of expected box-office hit Lion King — the movie theater will close, ending its 19-year run in the Centro Ybor complex, said Gene Siudut, vice chairman of the city of Tampa’s Ybor City Development Corp.
The theater may have had trouble attracting customers, he said.
Ybor City has developed into a tourist district whose residents are largely young professionals more interested in streaming movies online than watching them on the big screen.“I think Ybor itself isn’t the greatest fit for a movie theater,” Siudut said.The theater opened in 2000 as a part of an effort to revitalize Ybor City and occupies a big chunk of the 210,000-square-foot Centro Ybor complex. Developed as a public-private partnership to mirror Ybor City’s historic red-brick look, Centro Ybor ran into financial woes that forced the city of Tampa to take over loans in 2004.The theater has faced other economic challenges.In 2016, half the 20 screens closed and Ashley Furniture took the space for a headquarters. Then, original owner Muvico Theaters sold to industry giant AMC Theatres.The space won’t be empty for long. Two tenants have already made offers, said Ken Jones, CEO of Centro Ybor’s owner Third Lake Capital.A coworking company with shared office space for rent may bring around 500 employees to the area, Siudut said.
The agreement hinges on a 20-year-old requirement set by the city of Tampa: Retail usage of the complex must not dip below 50 percent.“While it’s unfortunate the theater is leaving, the future of the space is very bright,” Jones said.
Hundreds of new employees will mean more people to patronize restaurants and stores.The closing is a particular challenge for the Gasparilla International Film Festival, which has used the theater as its host location for the past few years. Organizers of the festival see Ybor City’s walkability and charm as an attraction for festival guests and celebrities. “Aside from our opening night at the Tampa Theatre, we didn’t leave Ybor the whole time,” said Monica Varner, the festival’s executive director . Joe Alexander, president of the festival board, holds out hope that the event can somehow remain in Ybor City.
He noted that four years ago, another shuttered theater in the former Channelside plaza downtown reopened briefly just to host the festival.
Whoever takes over the theater space, Centro Ybor must strike a fine balance in the retailers it goes after, Siudut said.
“I don’t think we needed a Victoria’s Secret in a walking outdoor mall,” he said. “It’s not in line with the culture of the district.”
But he also wants to make sure the retail requirement is met, to keep out some “giant blank office space.”
Jones said the right number of visitors and employees is key to the success of Centro Ybor tenants, but he said Third Lake Capital is committed to continuing the complex’s retail presence. Contact Amanda Zhou at email@example.com. Follow @amondozhou.