ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. — The Beach Theatre in St. Pete Beach opened in January 1940. But since 2012, the single theatre's screen has gone dark and when we visited earlier this month the electricity was still off.
Using one of our powerful production lights, ABC Action News photographer Reed Moeller illuminated the theatre and what revealed itself from the darkness looked like a disaster zone. A passing summer storm sent rain cascading down the walls like a waterfall, debris littered the floor, and a musky smell of a damp, dark place closed off from the salty fresh air of the Gulf of Mexico filled every breath.
"There's no power in the building at the moment. The AC wasn't working. There's obviously a musty smell because nobody's been in the building since 2012," Christopher Scott the new owner of the Beach Theatre said. "There's obviously work that needs to be done to bring it back to its original condition. The seats are actually in remarkable condition that they probably just need to go through a good cleaning. And the sound system in the back of the building is all intact. So we're hoping that we can actually revitalize it pretty quickly."
Scott said he got a call from his realtor Hendrik Bisanz, the owner of SEASALT Properties, and jumped at the chance to save the theatre.
"I called Chris and said, 'hey, Chris, the theatre is up for purchase. We need to buy it.' He said, 'what are we going to do with it?' Well, we'll figure that out."
Bisanz said there were 10 other offers on the table, but he sealed the deal and closed the property over the asking price. Listed at $469,000, it sold for $652,000. To Bisanz, that was a bargain, considering he feels it is worth a million. Now, the work starts to restore it.
"What I did not want to see happening is that the developer comes down, it comes down and turns it into maybe a drugstore or something like that," Bisanz said.
The former owner, Michael France, was a famous Hollywood screenwriter. France wrote the scripts for the first James Bond movie, "Goldeneye," starring Pierce Brosnan, and the Sylvester Stallone thriller "Cliffhanger." He is also credited with Ang Lee's "Hulk," "The Punisher," and "Fantastic Four."
In 2013, France was in failing health and, according to news reports, died from complications caused by diabetes. He was 51.
Since the purchase, Scott said he's been overwhelmed by the community response.
"I didn't realize quite how many people knew the building had had a history with the building. We've received emails. We've set up an email address for the building, just to receive the comments and received the ideas into it," Scott said.
There is a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 15 for the community to share their ideas and opinions on what the theatre should become. It will be at the St. Pete Beach Community Center at 7701 Boca Ciega Drive.
If you can't make it, the email address is email@example.com.
"Well, my hope is that the community is going to be able to take pride in what is going to be here. What it's going to be exactly hard to say at this moment," Bisanz said. "It would be nice if we could somehow create a sense of ownership amongst everybody throughout the Tampa Bay area."