TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Regal Cinemas location in Hillsborough County shut its doors for good on Tuesday as its parent company tries to come up with the cash to exit bankruptcy.
“I think it’s horrible,” said Patricia Ballard. “It’s a loss to everyone that’s been coming here forever.”
Regal Citrus Park, located at the Citrus Park Town Center mall, closed on June 6, according to the theater’s website.
Citrus Park neighbors were surprised Wednesday afternoon by the news.
“We brought the family yesterday to see Little Mermaid, and everything was beautiful,” said Lisa Baalbaki. “Then we saw the news article today and came over to check because we were shocked.”
Ballard and Baalbaki saw empty movie poster frames in front of the theater entrance and an empty marquee above the ticket booth.
“We’ve been coming here my kids’ whole life,” said Baalbaki. “This is tradition every week, every month, and we’re sorry to lose and hoping they open back up.”
Weeki Wachee residents Robert and Mary Ellen Caesar even bought tickets on Tuesday and drove all the way down to the theater on Wednesday, thinking it was open.
“We bought tickets to the Magic Flute,” Robert said. “We wanted to see it. So we bought tickets yesterday and we came today and they’re closed.”
“This is one of the few places that they show it that we can get to,” Mary Ellen added.
The couple was celebrating Mary Ellen’s birthday.
“It’s nice to get out,” Mary Ellen said. “They had a bar here and they had a little snack if you wanted it. And all of that was lovely.”
The Caesars admitted they don’t come to the theater very often, which they said may have contributed to its decline.
In an email to 8 On Your Side, the mall owner wrote:
We view this as an excellent opportunity to upgrade the theatre operations in Citrus Park Town Center Mall. Hillsborough County deserves a first-class theatre operation and a vibrant mall, and we look forward to working with the Tampa/Hillsborough County officials and leadership team to make the Citrus Park Town Center Mall the number one shopping experience in Tampa. The mall is succeeding both in growing the occupancy levels and in tenant sales, and all indications are that the mall has a bright future.James Hull, Hull Property Group
Regal’s website no longer lets customers buy tickets for the theater and signs on the doors direct people to the Regal Largo Mall and other locations.
Regal’s parent company, the U.K.-based Cineworld, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. in Sept. 2022, according to a Reuters report. The company’s net debt, excluding lease liabilities, was $4.84 billion.
The company planned to cut down its massive debt. On May 25, a federal judge approved Cineworld’s plan to raise $2.26 billion as part of its exit from bankruptcy.
Cineworld announced last month that it plans to exit bankruptcy in July. But first, a judge must approve its restructuring strategy during a June 12 court appearance.
“In 2019, there were 40,613 screens,” said Gabriel Rossman. “As of December 2022, which is the most recent data, there’s 38,474 screens. So that’s an appreciable decline.”
UCLA Professor Gabriel Rossman said audiences have changed their viewing habits.
“They only want to go to the movie theater,” Rossman explained. “If they feel like you have to go to the movie theater because it will lose something seeing it at home.”
“You can watch the movie just a month or two after it came out in theaters,” Rossman added. “Audiences now realize this and expect this.”
Cineworld did not respond to 8 On Your Side’s request for comment.
“We’ve lost so much through COVID and everything,” Ballard said. “This is just another smack.”