Taking the unprecedented step of asking residents what they’d like to see happen to the Beach Theatre, new owner Christopher Scott spent an hour Wednesday afternoon fielding questions and listening to suggestions – and offers to help.
“We don’t need another bar, we don’t need another place that has ‘Best on the Beach’ fish sandwiches,” a woman told Scott during the public meeting at the St. Pete Beach Community Center, echoing the expressed sentiments of many in the room. “As long as you keep it, and don’t knock it down for a stupid bank or condo, we will be grateful forever.”
Scott, an Englishman who moved to the area with his family in 2020, assured the approximately 100 attendees that he had no intention of razing the 81-year-old movie house, which has been closed since 2012.
Instead, he assured residents that the history of the place, and its significance as a source of activity to St. Pete Beach, was paramount to him.
Scott projected photos of the run-down interior of the 4,800-square-foot Corey Avenue facility, noting that a steady leak in the roof had caused hundreds of ceiling tiles to fall, exposing the air conditioning ductwork.
The projection booth, he explained, contains a vintage analog projector and an early, most likely outdated, digital projection system. And lots of dust.
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The meeting was lively and participants were good-natured, with speakers patiently waiting for their turns to talk with Scott.
Suggestions ranged from a state-of-the-art independent movie theater (lots of restoration required, it was explained), to a restaurant (no kitchen space), a sidewalk café (no sidewalk space), a day care center, a Main Street USA venue, a music venue with Karaoke nights, a church or a museum.
Scott said he’d received more than 100 emails at email@example.com, and by a wide margin the most popular idea was a mixed-use performing arts space, for films, plays, concerts and community events.
Wearing shorts and a polo shirt, the soft-spoken Scott seemed eager to assure the residents of St. Pete Beach that he was, in fact, “one of them.”
There were tough questions, sure.
Asked one man: “Your sizeable investment in the theater – is that a donation to the city?”
Answered Scott: “If I can answer your question as directly as I can, it’s an investment. And by the strength of an investment, you’re putting money into something hoping that you can see it develop and grow and …”
“Earn a profit or just break even?” the man interrupted.
“Well, I would like to see the operation of it make a profit, by whoever’s running it.”
“So your deep pockets aren’t going to fund it forever – it’s going to have to support itself?”
“I don’t have deep pockets to fund it forever, no,” Scott chuckled. “But to answer your question, it’s an investment that my wife, my family and I have decided that we’re going to get involved in.
“And hopefully, the outcome of today, and the outcome of all the emails, is that I can bring people together that can hopefully help create an entity … whether it’s a not-for-profit, or an entity that can help develop it. My hope is to come up with a group of people that really want to get involved. Then I can bring people together who know how to put on plays, or to put on pantomimes or shows. I don’t know anything about that.”
A member of the “live cast” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which performed (during screenings of the film) on weekends for many years, took the opportunity to show support for Scott and wherever the project leads St. Pete Beach.
“This is where we started,” she told him. “It’s very important to us. We would scrub those bathrooms clean. We had people falling through the ceiling making repairs. We have a whole cast of people who really, really love this theater, and we would volunteer all of our time to work there, help clean up, help pick up anything.”
“And even if it didn’t become a theater venue, as much as I would love it to, we would be happy enough just to see it thrive. And to be standing on its own, and able to make the revenue to keep it going.”
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