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What’s going on with the Beach Theatre renovations?

Bill DeYoung

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Hannah Hockman, whose parents bought the Beach Theatre in February, has been posting photos and videos on social media, and selling theater swag at the Corey Avenue Market. Facebook photo.

In February, St. Petersburg’s Hockman family purchased the Beach Theatre, St. Pete Beach’s long-shuttered movie house, for $1 million. Along with the announcement came bold promises about the future of the historic, circa-1940 cinderblock building on Corey Avenue.

Hannah Hockman, who’s directing operations (her parents, Ronald and Sissy, signed the check) said that while the contractor and architect are “ready to go” – plans have been drawn up – the desired total renovation of the 4,800-square-foot interior is on a temporary hold.

“We’re still on track to open in March of 2025,” Hockman said. “That’s always been our goal. But unfortunately, we’re still waiting on our permits from the City.”

While St. Beach Beach’s City Manager and Department of Fire & Safety have signed off on theater renovations, Hockman said, there’s still one City signature – she would not say whose – needed before work can begin.

“We really need permits to get anything moving here,” she explained. “We’ve been waiting here for four months, we’ve submitted three times and just did a fourth revision last week – and no one can really talk to us. I don’t really know what the problem is.”

Calls to the City of St. Pete Beach, by the Catalyst, were not immediately returned.

Designed in 1939, the year of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, the historic single-screen venue was the first theater in Pinellas County built specifically for sound pictures, and it was the first air conditioned movie house in the area.

Opening night was Jan. 15, 1940.

RELATED READING: Vintage St. Pete: Michael France and the Beach Theatre

The Beach Theatre, 315 Corey Ave. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

Screenwriter Michael France, who bought the theater in 2007, ran out of money and closed it five years later. He died shortly thereafter.

British investor Christopher Scott bought the empty building from the France family in 2021, and Scott in turn sold it to the Hockmans.

The seats and the plumbing were removed, Hannah Hockman said, by the previous owner. The air conditioning may well need a serious upgrade, and theater definitely requires a new roof, drywall and electrical system. “We need to re-do just about everything,” she said.

“Not being able to do the heavy lifting work, we’ve done everything we can do to prepare. We picked out our seats. We’ve picked out what the countertop’s going to be, what the light fixtures are … we’re ready to hit Place Order on everything, and our subcontractors are ready to go. We’ve got our team ready.”

In addition, “We’re  not doing anything crazy on the outside, other than hopefully being able to put the marquees back up. And get some new doors. And that’s really all we’re looking to do.”

She’s been a ubiquitous presence on social media, and at the Corey Avenue Market and Craft Festivals, where’s she’s been selling Beach Theatre swag.

The family’s desire is to turn the Beach into an “event center,” where people can see movies, live theater and more. Groups will be able to rent it. A small cabaret space will be incorporated into the lobby area.

Scott, the previous owner, talked for a long time about renovations, even going so far as to ask the public for suggestions. He performed early demo works and other tasks. Then he sold it to the Hockmans.

Will the same thing happen again?

“A lot of people have said that,” Hockman offered. “There’s not much for me to say, other than I know I’m going to get it done. It’s totally self-funded. We’re not asking anything from the public – other than once we’re open, hopefully a lot of people are going to be excited about it.

“We’re locals, and we’ve seen this property closed up for way too long. We’re determined to get it open.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hal Freedman

    July 3, 2024at3:40 pm

    You go, Hannah!! Fire & safety is usually the toughest, and you’re through that.

  2. Avatar

    Steve D

    July 3, 2024at3:31 pm

    Sorry you’re having so much trouble with permitting in St Pete Beach; I wish for your eventual success. However, having spoken with many business owners there, you’re not the only one going through this. I’ve been told that it’s almost as if they want you, as a business owner, to fail. Perhaps it’s because they’re more interested in political grandstanding, as has been the case for the past couple of years.

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