The Beach Theatre, which has been entertaining moviegoers in Fort Myers Beach since 1999, closed again last week after changing hands for the third time and the first time since 2011.
Steve Boge, who owns Signature Vacation Properties in Fort Myers Beach, just paid $4 million for the 10,000-square-foot theater at 6425 Estero Blvd., which is $400 per square foot, a significant increase from the $140 per square foot previously sold in 2011 when the price was $1.4 million. The theater had four screens and sold dinners to guests who could dine at tables while watching the films.
Boge also paid $15 million for the 34-unit Gulfview Manor, located across the street at 6530 Estero Blvd. The resort operates as usual.
But the theater closed, just as it did in 2011, after the previous owner, Lupu’s Beach Properties LLC, bought it before reopening a few months later. The pandemic also forced the theater to close from March to June 2020.
Sorin Lupu, a Canadian real estate developer and part-time Naples resident who owned the theater, died in November and his estate is selling most of his properties.
“At this point, we’re still a little unsure of what our final plans for the building will look like,” Boge said of the theater. “We’re working with an architect on a few different options, but we won’t know exactly what our final plans will be until the City of Fort Myers Beach approves them.” He envisions converting at least two of the areas shown in the theater into a sit-down restaurant and reopen as a theater with one or two halls.
Ray Murphy expressed his disappointment at the theater’s closure, not in his role as the mayor of Fort Myers Beach, but as a moviegoer who saw four or five films a year there and most recently attended the Fort Myers Beach Film Festival there. “It’s a disappointment for a lot of people, including me,” he said. “I was on the original council when it opened. That was a big thing back then. We’ve been enjoying movies there ever since.”
Murphy wasn’t the only one to say he hopes the theater will reopen someday.
Nick Campo, who had managed the theater since it opened, had to tell his 11 staff that they were made redundant last week.
“It was a bit of a shock,” Campo said. “I didn’t expect it to be over so quickly. We originally talked about keeping it running until the end of the month and my staff could have kept it going. But I guess there was some kind of snafu.
“But it’s her property. They can do whatever they want. The industry is just starting to come back. [Top Gun: Maverick] was really our first big film in two and a 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 never met the actor, he was friends with Mary Lee South, Cruise’s mother, for 40 years. She died in 2017 at the age of 80 and lived on Marco Island, where Campo still directs 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, small theater like this, we had to increase our card averages. The food service was definitely the way to go.”
Campo helped design the theater. “I pretty much designed the kitchen and the layout,” he said. “We built the building with my original partners from Marco Island. My original partners were ready to go out of business [in 2011]. I didn’t really want the beach theater. But I bought Marco.”
Lupu had no experience as a theater owner.
“But he was a movie buff,” said Campo, who turns 70 later this month. “He asked if I would stay. So I ran it like it had never changed in all these years. It’s a little bittersweet that it’s over. But I’m at a point in my career where I’m giving up anyway.”
Like Murphy, Campo hopes the theater will recover and reopen when the new owner is ready.
“There is no substitute for the actual theater experience,” said Campo. “There’s nothing like a movie. It’s an experience.
“If they do the restaurant and cinema plan, I think it’s a great plan. If they need help and guidance, I’m here for them. i love this building It could be exciting.”