Tampa City Council member Luis Viera has said from the very beginning of his current term that cracking down on blight in New Tampa would be one of his priorities, and he has not been shy about sic’ing code enforcement on those he feels aren’t keeping the District 7 area he represents up to a certain standard.
His latest target is the AMC Highwoods 20 movie theater on Highwoods Preserve Pkwy., off Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd.
Viera sent a letter to AMC Corporate headquarters in Leawood, KS, on Nov. 12 requesting to speak with someone about the condition of its movie theater in the heart of New Tampa.
According to Viera’s letter, he has received a number of calls and emails from residents that the building’s facade looks run down and dirty and the surrounding vegetation is not being maintained.
Viera wrote that the condition of the property was “not properly reflecting the exterior standards of New Tampa” and that it was in “desperate need of attention.”
At our press time, Viera said he had not received a response.
“I don’t think we’re asking for a lot,” Viera says. “This isn’t an onerous regulation. Just take care of the exterior of your building and the landscaping. These are basic steps. We aren’t asking them to put in new seating and start serving Dom Perignon.”
Alicia Kanhai, who lives in Richmond Place, says she is glad Viera wrote the letter. She lives right down the street from the AMC 20, and says it is apparent that the theater management has let the building and the surrounding area deteriorate unabated in recent years.
The theater started out as a Muvico theater until being purchased by Carmike Cinema in 2013 for roughly $32 million.
In 2017, AMC bought Carmike for $1.1 billion.
“Every time we go for a walk, we pass it, and it’s gotten pretty bad,” says Kanhai, who is married with 12- and 13-year-old boys. “We used to love going there, but we can’t handle it.”
It appears Kanhai isn’t alone. Viera posted his letter, as well as two pictures of the area, on the community message board NextDoor.com, and it received more than 100 responses.
Many online posters complained about the exterior, but they were also unhappy about the conditions inside.
While the theater might be showing its age in an era of large reclining seats and in-theater food service, some wrote that things like outdated seating, sticky floors and dirty bathrooms keep them away. Others used stronger wording, calling the conditions “vile” and “disgusting.”
Many posters said they would rather drive 20 minutes to see a movie at The Cobb Grove 16 in Wesley Chapel, which features many of the amenities now more common in theaters across the country.
But some, while stopping short of defending the movie theater, said other buildings in New Tampa were just as bad, if not worse. Namely, the abandoned old Sweetbay grocery store next to Home Depot, which is in far greater disrepair than the AMC 20, was cited by some as a greater concern.
Mostly, however, the prevailing response on NextDoor.com and people Viera says have emailed him is that the movie theater has seen better days, and he hopes his letter nudges management to give the theater a little TLC.
“How much can a couple cans of paint cost?,” Viera asks.
A recent Forbes.com story said that AMC Theaters reported that second quarter revenues in 2019 were up 4.4-percent, and 97 million tickets were sold during the quarter, an all-time record for the company.
The article also said that the company has added premium recliner seating to some of its 639 U.S. movie theaters.
“We can go to other places, but I don’t want to go to the Cobb, I want to go here,” Kanhai says. “This is my neighborhood. I want to go to the theater here. But, if they want people to keep coming, they are going to have to do some upkeep to keep it an attractive place.”