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Few fans doomed Sunrise Cinemas

Published September 23, 2006

It was deja vu all over again last month when Sunrise Cinemas closed in Hyde Park Village. Same deal with Madstone Theaters in 2004, but that time it wasn't our fault - the whole Madstone operation took a dive.

Sunrise Cinemas, however, is alive and well in nine theater complexes with 66 screens on Florida's east coast.

It wasn't just another neighborhood theater getting dumped by a developer, of course. Sunrise was the only theater in the Tampa Bay area with more than one screen that routinely showed indie and foreign movies. People came from all over Pinellas; we occasionally saw a friend from Brooksville.

Now where do we go?

In a metro area of 2.5-million people, can't we expect to have such a theater? What are we, a bunch of yahoos?

I happened to be at Sunrise the night it closed. I don't usually go to live burials, but it was the last night to see Quinceanera, not playing anywhere else even though we are probably a hub for quinceaneras, a celebration for girls on their 15th birthday.

In front of the theater we had to step around the yellow caution tape that sectioned off the area where the theater marquee sign was being taken down.

"Couldn't they have waited until tomorrow?" wondered two women behind me in the ticket line.

Guess not and, since it was 7 p.m., the workers must have been paid overtime.

When we left the theater, the sign was down.

The theater building is still there. The City Council hasn't given developers approval of their condo tower yet, as a young man handing out "SAVE SUNRISE CINEMAS!" fliers pointed out in the lobby the last night.

We ran into him after the show. I asked if he was a theater employee, and he said, no, just a "drone" who works at a bank and lives in the neighborhood. He was optimistic the cultural community would rally around the theater and the council would vote on the right side of things.

Are you from Tampa? I asked.

He was from New York.

I hate to say it, but Wasserman Real Estate Capital, which bought Old Hyde Park Village and changed its name to Hyde Park Village, is not the enemy.

In January, David Wasserman, here for TV shots in front of the village fountain - which he also intends to get rid of -- said the theater would go. When I pressed the no-news-to-him fact that Sunrise was the only theater here that showed foreign and indie movies, and he said, "yes, and it's going out of business."

I had to admit it, but except for film festivals, the theater was not slammed. At least when I was there.

In a goodbye letter from Sunrise Cinemas president to "Tampa Bay area movie lovers," Sunrise was said to have the "most improved performance of any movie theatre in the Tampa Bay market."

That kind of grading is the only reason I got a B in bowling.

If Sunrise Cinemas had been wildly successful, its apres-film crowd spilling over into the village's stores and restaurants, would Wasserman have ditched it? He isn't rich because he's stupid.

So I guess the enemy is us.

Take this, in an e-mail I received from a Tampa friend traveling this summer:

"We went to see Little Miss Sunshine at the equivalent of Sunrise Cinemas with one difference - the house was packed with a really appreciative audience - on a Wednesday night!"

That was Rochester, N.Y., metro area population 1-million.

Sandra Thompson, a Tampa writer, can be reached at sthompson125@ City Life appears on Saturday.

[Last modified September 23, 2006, 06:05:12]

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