An 11-screen movie theater could be opening in Ellenton within the next couple years — but not before traffic improvements are made.
Ellenton Theatre, which will be built on roughly 7 acres near the Ellenton Premium Outlets, was approved Thursday by the Manatee County Commission.
“I think it is something that is much needed,” said Caleb Grimes, who represents the applicant. “We have gone a long, long time without a movie theater in north county.”
After extensive discussion about traffic issues in the area, the applicant and county agreed to a stipulation that they would come back with an agreement for impact fee credit and reimbursement for roadway improvements prior to construction.
“We are wanting to be part of the solution and not just a continuation of a problem,” Grimes said.
With the closest movie theaters for residents living north of the Manatee River more than 10 miles away from the outlet mall, the Ellenton Theatre, which will have reclining chairs as well as food and a bar, will give residents a new entertainment option, showing both first-run and independent movies.
Another movie theater north of the river is also planned as a 1,750-seat movie theater was part of the plan of Robinson Gateway, a 288-acre multi-use development, approved by the commission in April 2015. Robinson Gateway would be located about two miles south of the Hillsborough County line.
As first reported in September by the Bradenton Herald, OM Cinemas, in coordination with property owner IMG Enterprises Inc., plans to build 22,800 square feet of associated commercial uses in addition to the 34,000-square-foot movie theater on the property. The site is at the northwest corner of 60th Avenue East and Factory Shops Boulevard in Ellenton.
“Having a cinema associated with an outlet mall makes sense,” Grimes said. “It is a nice symbiotic relationship.”
With a number of future projects slated for this area, a lot of things can happen, said Clarke Davis, the county’s transportation planning manager.
“There are things in the work,” he said. “This is one of the spots in the county where there is just a lot of traffic.”
For the movie theater, the intersection of 60th Avenue East and Factory Shops Boulevard needs improvement possibly through a public-private partnership, according to Sia Mollanazar, the county’s deputy director of public works.
“We, the government, move like a turtle and these guys are rabbits,” he said of a potential partnership.
Grimes said they will be looking at operational improvements as well as whether the project triggers capacity improvements.
“If we do nothing here, we don’t do this project,” he said. “That gives us the opportunity to address something that is a problem now.”
While Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace said she would love to see a theater north of the river, she also has huge traffic concerns about this area.
“You can’t get off the interstate in the afternoon,” she said. “We have so much traffic issues there right now.”
The developer picked a prime location for a movie theater, but there are traffic and public safety issues now, echoed Commissioner Charles Smith.
“It’s one of the worst roads I’ve ever seen,” he said. “To add the movie theater now without improvements to the road, I agree partnership is a must with that section.”