The Beach Theater, which has been entertaining Fort Myers Beach movie goers off and on since 1999, shut down again last week after changing ownership for the third time, and the first time since 2011.
Steve Boge, who owns Signature Vacation Properties on Fort Myers Beach, just paid $19 million for the 10,000-square-foot theater at 6425 Estero Blvd and the 34-unit Gulfview Manor, which is just across the street at 6530 Estero Blvd.
The resort is operating business as usual.
But the theater shut down, just as it did in 2011 after the previous owner, Lupu’s Beach Properties LLC, bought it before reopening it a few months later. The pandemic also forced the theater to shut down, from March until June of 2020.
Sorin Lupu, a Canadian real estate developer and part-time Naples resident who had owned the theater, died in November, and his estate is selling most of his properties.
“We are still a bit unsure of what our final plans will be for the building at this point,” Boge said of the theater. “We are working with an architect on a few different options, but we won’t know exactly what our final plans are until the Town of Fort Myers Beach approves it.” He envisions converting at least two of the theater screened areas into a sit-down restaurant and reopening as a one- or two-screen theater.
Ray Murphy expressed his disappointment in the theater closing, not in his role as the mayor of Fort Myers Beach, but as a movie goer who watched four or five movies a year there, most recently attending the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival there. “It’s a disappointment to a lot of people, myself included,” he said. “I was on the original council when it opened. It was a real big deal at the time. We’ve been enjoying movies there ever since.”
Murphy wasn’t alone in saying he hoped the theater would reopen someday.
Nick Campo, who had managed the theater since it opened, had to tell his 11 employees they were being let go last week.
“It was a little bit of a shock,” Campo said. “I wasn’t expecting it to end so quickly. We originally had talked about running it through the end of the month, and my staff could have kept running it. But I guess there was some sort of a snafu.
“But it’s their property. They can do whatever they want. The industry is just starting to come back. [Top Gun: Maverick] was really going to be our first huge movie in two and half years. Spiderman did really well. But Spiderman doesn’t carry the crossover that this Tom Cruise movie has.”
Campo has ties to Cruise. Although Campo has never met the actor, he was friends for 40 years with Mary Lee South, Cruise’s mom. She died at the age of 80 in 2017 and was a resident of Marco Island, where Campo still manages the Marco Island theater.
“In a smaller market like Marco and Fort Myers Beach, you have to do something different,” Campo said. “You can’t just serve popcorn and drinks and hot dogs. In a small, little theater like that, we had to take our ticket averages up. The food service was definitely the way to go.”
Campo helped design the theater. “I designed the kitchen and the layout pretty much,” he said. “We built the building with my original partners from Marco Island. My original partners were ready to get out of the business [in 2011]. I didn’t really want the beach theater. But I bought Marco.”
Lupu had no experience owning a theater.
“But he was a movie buff,” said Campo, who turns 70 later this month. “He asked if I would stay on. So, I ran it like it never changed for all these years. It’s a little bittersweet that it’s over with. But I’m at a time in my career where I’m winding down anyway.”
Like Murphy, Campo hopes the theater bounces back and reopens when the new owner is ready.
“There’s no replacement for the actual in-theater experience,” Campo said. “There’s nothing like watching a movie. It’s an experience.
“If they do the restaurant and movie theater plan, I think it’s a great plan. If they need some help and some guidance, I’ll be there for them. I love that building. It could be exciting.”