By Dan Moffett
Moviegoers will say goodbye to an old friend this month when the Regal Delray Beach 18 Theater goes dark to make way for an LA Fitness center after a long run spanning three decades at the corner of Linton Boulevard and Federal Highway.
“Yes, we will be closing in November,” said a theater employee, “but we don’t have an exact date yet.”
Regal Entertainment Group corporate officers in Nashville, Tenn., and the operators of the Plaza at the Delray mall have declined to confirm that the theater is closing, fearing damage to the business in its final weeks.
“I know it’s a simple question,” said Jason Stewart, manager of the Regal 18. “But I’m not allowed to answer it.”
But patrons of the cinemas have seen the telltale signs of demise surfacing through the summer as attendance has dwindled noticeably: Missing signs over the auditorium doors. Surrounding businesses vacated to make room for the gym’s construction. Concession stands without counter workers. Stale popcorn.
City Manager Louie Chapman Jr. said the mall operators have had the city’s approval to demolish the building for months, and the theater’s closing is imminent. “It’s going to be torn down,” he said, “and the gym is coming in.”
In September, the mall’s landlord, Ramco-Gershenson Properties, based in Farmington Hills, Mich., secured $46 million in financing to overhaul the 35-acre property. LA Fitness will become a centerpiece for the renovation and an overture to a more youthful demographic. Other major tenants include Publix, Marshalls, Ross Dress for Less, T.J. Maxx, CVS, Anna’s Linens, Applebee’s and Duffy’s Sports Grill.
With the closing of the Regal 18 and the Delray Square Cinema on Atlantic Avenue, coastal moviegoers will have to gas up their cars and travel to Boynton Beach, Boca Raton or west past Florida’s Turnpike to Frank Theaters at Delray Marketplace.
The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency has approved plans for an eight-screen, 500-seat luxury movie theater on the old Delray Library site on Southeast Fourth Street. But the iPic Entertainment project isn’t expected to be completed until 2015.
Because of its commitment to show independent and foreign films, the Regal 18 drew patrons from all over Palm Beach County. It also was the host of the annual Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival.
Bob Schwartz of Motiva/ConCensus business consultants in Delray Beach recently argued to the City Commission that the theater has been an essential part of the city’s cultural identity, and officials should do what they can to find a replacement.
“When we realized the Regal 18, the one theater that is right here, was going to go, it was an enormous loss. We really have so many gyms and so many ways of having fitness centers,” Schwartz said. “There are really a tremendous amount of senior citizens and people at both ends of the spectrum for whom that Regal 18 was essential.”
He said there were legions of coastal moviegoers left with nowhere to go. “You’re going to have 200 people from Tropic Isle alone who use that theater,” Schwartz said.