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Upscale dinner theater coming to University Mall


University Mall in Tampa has found a new, distinctly upscale theater operator to re-open the long-closed cinema. After a renovation, the new Studio Movie Grill operation will become a dinner/theater, complete with a bar.

Backers of the deal say it’s a huge win for the property, and should signal that the mall is at long last moving in the right direction.

SMG signed a lease for 57,000 square feet in the former Frank Theatres site that closed in January 2013, and if construction goes according to plan, the theater will open in the third or fourth quarter of this year.

“We can easily say this is the first step in if not of a major redevelopment, then a transformation of this mall,” said David Conn, the commercial real estate broker with the firm CBRE who handled the deal on behalf of the mall property owner. More often, movie theaters going through a transformation end up a second-run theater, Conn said, but not in this case. “We consider this a real coup to bring a first-run theater here and offer something unique to this mall.”

Officials with SMG could not be reached for comment, but officials with CBRE describe the project as a “multi-milion dollar” investment.

The mall could use an injection of new capital, as the property has struggled in recent years and been re-positioned in past years into more of a value and discount shopping center. Much of the site remains empty, though the interior has been renovated with a fresher look. Much of the western portion of the mall has been closed off and could be either removed or redeveloped into another use, Conn said.

University Mall struggled ever since other regional malls opened in Brandon and Citrus Park. The location, however, remained prime, sitting on Fowler Avenue directly between I-275 and the University of South Florida, Moffitt Cancer Center and Florida Hospital, meaning thousands of white collar workers in the area during the day and students on campus during weekdays and weekends.

This marks the first Florida location for the Dallas-based movie theater company, and the 18th nationwide. “We are looking forward to offering not only the best in in-theater dining for local residents but also to becoming a true partner in the community and providing our new Tampa neighborhood numerous economic opportunities,” Studio Movie Grill Founder/CEO Brian Schultz said in a statement.

As for the food, Studio Movie Grill covers many of the bases in traditional American restaurants. A 2-for-$25 deal at many locations now includes picks such as Blackened Chicken or Asian Chopped Chicken, or burgers, pizzas and pastas such as Chicken Pesto or Carne Pomodoro.

Drinks are a large part of the offering, and each day the dinner theater has a special deal, such as $5 Margaritas or Friday/Saturday nights with 25 percent-off bottles of wine. Ticket prices vary, but a single adult ticket can cost $9.75 at some theater locations, with discounts for military and senior citizens. Customers can choose their exact theater seat by buying a ticket online in advance.

Such dinner theater combinations are starting to become more prevalent nationwide, with sites such as the Cobb Theaters opening locations in Hyde Park Village and in Pasco County.


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