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    AMC to close two Clearwater theaters

    Clearwater 5 AMC Theaters at Clearwater Mall and AMC Countryside 6 Theaters will close. A spokesman blames competition from newer megaplexes.

    [Times photo: Andrea Bruce Woodall]
    AMC Countryside 6 Theatres near Countryside Mall is one of two that will close in Clearwater.

    By SHARON TUBBS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 12, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- The Legend of Bagger Vance, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and other fall flicks will be released in coming weeks across the nation, but not necessarily in a theater near you -- if you live in Clearwater.

    On Sunday, AMC Theatres will shut down two movie theaters in the city: Clearwater 5 AMC Theatres at Clearwater Mall and AMC Countryside 6 Theatres near Countryside Mall, a company executive confirmed Wednesday.

    "Frankly, business is declining due to competition from megaplex theaters," said Rick King, a spokesman for AMC at the company's headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. "That's kind of the story in the industry."

    Nationwide, AMC has closed more than 200 theaters with more than 700 screens in the past five years, King said. Whether any of the five other AMC theaters in Pinellas will be closed has not been decided, King said. But more shutdowns across the country are inevitable, he said.

    "There's no question that closings of older theaters will continue over the next two or three years," King said.

    Stacy Lipschitz, a spokeswoman for Clearwater Mall, would not say what impact, if any, the theater's closing might have on the mall. And Bill Carnes, manager for Countryside Mall declined to comment.

    The closures will leave the county's second-largest city with just one full-price movie theater, Movies at Clearwater on U.S. 19 just north of Countryside Mall, and a discount theater, Clearwater Cinema Cafe, also on U.S. 19 near Sunset Point Road.

    But the change comes just six months after AMC opened a 20-screen megaplex, Woodlands Square 20, on Tampa Road in Oldsmar, about 4 miles from Countryside. The complex features stadium seating and high-quality sound. King said he hopes loyal patrons will go to Oldsmar for their favorite flicks, adding that the closings were not necessarily what executives had in mind when they opened the megaplex in March.

    The switch will be a hard one for some, said 20-year-old Jeremy Hayes, who frequently went to the Countryside theater.

    "I think it's a bad idea," Hayes said, standing outside the theater this week. "It's going to be restricted to just the Woodlands."

    King, however, said the company's strategy heeds consumers' demand.

    "The story is that a new product has come to the market, the new megaplexes," he said. "And the audiences love the new megaplexes."

    King acknowledged that AMC's profits are down and its stock price has slumped. The company intends to build more megaplexes, including a 14-screen theater planned for WestShore Mall in Tampa.

    Industry analysts, however, worry that too many state-of-the-art modern movie theaters, or megaplexes, have over-saturated the market. In the Tampa Bay area, the trend is as vivid as King Kong in 3-D. At least two more megaplex theaters are scheduled to open by year's end.

    Other theater companies have felt the financial strain. Carmike Cinemas, which closed Main Street 5 Theaters in Clearwater, and United Artists Theatre Co., owner of Movies at Clearwater, both filed for bankruptcy in the past two months.

    King said local theater workers were told of the closings within the past week. He did not know how many employees would be affected, or whether the company was offering them jobs at other AMC theaters.

    "It's always sort of a sad day when you close a theater," King said. "You've been a part of peoples' lives."

    - Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

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