The idea of breathing life back into the historic Zephyrhills Home Theatre is taking a backseat — at least for now.
The Zephyrhills City Council on Oct. 25 voted to deny an appraisal of the dilapidated downtown building, located at 38521 Fifth Avenue.
The $3,600 appraisal — if it had been approved during the regular council meeting — would’ve been performed by NewStream Companies in Tampa, and would have provided some clarity regarding a potential last-minute state appropriations request for the project.
There have been conversations for several years about reviving the 500-seat twin theatre —perhaps transforming it into a playhouse or a venue to hold various community events.
The theater was built in 1948 by lumber magnate and former Zephyrhills Mayor I.A. Krusen.
Back then, it was billed as one of the most modern movie theaters in the South, with comfortable seats, a wide stage, and a glass-enclosed “crying room” for babies.
The movie house closed in 2007, but remained available for rent. It reopened in 2010, but was shuttered again.
In a memo, city staffers recommended approval of the appraisal and submitted a state appropriations request for the purchase and renovation of the Zephyrhills Home Theatre, asserting it “will bring additional activity downtown, thus spurring additional growth and development.”
The remodeling concept was renewed after state Sen. Danny Burgess — a Zephyrhills native — recently reached out to staffers and encouraged the submittal of a state appropriations request, Zephyrhills City Manager Billy Poe said.
Staff continued preliminary discussions with Burgess and the property owner regarding the possibility of the city acquiring and renovating the buildings, Poe explained.
But council members raised a number of issues about the potential renovation, putting a halt to the initiative for now.
Council members noted that the city already is seeking funding for a trio of multimillion projects. Those are: A sewer main and water main extension for $3.48 million; Zephyrhills Municipal Airport improvements for $5.33 million; and Zephyr Park improvements for $5 million.
Council members voiced concern about submitting a fourth appropriations request to the state to revive the theater, theorizing it might jeopardize one or more of the other projects.
Council Vice President Jodi Wilkeson characterized those other projects as “the things we’re desperate for.”
Another concern is spreading staffers too thin, if all four big-ticket items gained approval.
Councilman Lance Smith noted that the city has a lot going on.
Other potential problems include insufficient time to gather necessary details and the lack of a concrete plan of action.
The deadline for submitting appropriation project requests to the Florida House for the 2022 regular legislation session is Nov. 17.
The city would be unable to get all of the information needed by that date to turn in an accurate request, Poe said.
Another issue involves the feasibility of doing a renovation.
The building’s age and condition also could lead to further unanticipated costs, upon a complete survey and feasibility study.
The city has encountered this kind of a dilemma in the past, with renovations of the Sixth Avenue Fire Station and Historic Jeffries House, to name a few.
Smith noted: “That (theater) building, whatever you can possibly imagine it would cost to renovate it, it’s going to be double or triple, guaranteed.”
Wilkeson agreed: “There’s lots of things that could be wrong with the building.”
The two-story theater building also features two small commercial units on the first floor — a salon and barbershop — and two residential units on the second floor.
Also, if the city purchased the building — that would remove a commercial building off the tax rolls.
Councilman Charles Proctor raised this question: “Are we in the business, as a city, to be purchasing all these properties, and taking them off the tax roll?”
Despite myriad concerns, Poe pointed out that this may have been the window of opportunity to capitalize on the theatre renovation project — given strong representation from Burgess, state Rep. Randy Maggard, R-Dade City, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, respectively.
Zephyrhills did well with state appropriations last year.
It received $6.5 million for water and wastewater improvements on Handcart Road; $4.6 million for improvements to the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center; and, $3 million for improvements to the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport.
The city also was selected as the site for a $25 million state-of-the-art Florida National Guard Armory.
“As we know, kind of all the stars are aligned at the state,” Poe said. “Last year and this year is our best opportunities that we have. We have friendly senators or representatives, as well, in the right seats.”
Council President Alan Knight said he appreciated Burgess for suggesting the idea of renovating the theater. But Knight noted: “I just think that it’s not a real good time right now.”
Wilkeson concurred: “I just don’t think we can put together something professional enough that it would support Senator Burgess’s goals and objectives.”
Published November 10, 2021