DeSoto Square Mall Cinemas has rat problem, health department confirms

MANATEE -- Before the theater closed for renovations, moviegoers at the DeSoto 6 Colonial Cinemas apparently saw rats scurrying across the floor. One customer who visited the theater saw the rat race and complained to the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County.

According to records from the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County, health department inspector Barbara Will responded to the March 14 complaint of seeing "a rat run across the theater in Cinema #4 (twice)."

Will visited the theater later that day and performed a routine inspection. According to her inspection report, she addressed the customer complaint with theater manager Lance Depatie.

According to Will's report, Depatie placed "more traps down in theater #4 (inside and outside) and sprayed for other vermin as well." Will found "some droppings by the back door in theater #1" and informed Depatie of gaps under exit doors where vermin could enter.

The report notes "no evidence of rodents in the food service area at all."

Will also noted the "theater is closing for a couple of weeks to address some projection issues, remaining items to be addressed during that time."

The theater closed in March and remains closed. A voicemail message from theater management said the theater is temporarily closed for renovations and will reopen "soon," with no definitive date provided. The DeSoto 6 theater requires health department approval to reopen, according to the March 24 reinspection report. The report requests the theater correct all violations by 8 a.m. April 30.

Depatie could not be reached for comment by end of day Tuesday.

The March 14 inspection report rated the theater as "satisfactory" with instructions to correct noted violations by the reinspection date, which was not specified on the report documents.

During the March 14 inspection, Will also spoke with Sondra Anderson, Desoto Square mall general manager.

"She (Anderson) had received a complaint from another tenants that they thought rodents were in their attic and had already called Orkin," the report reads.

Anderson told the Herald the mall used Orkin pest control previously and now uses Bradenton-based Westfall's Lawn & Pest. Westfall visits the mall and treats common areas every two weeks, Anderson said. Individual tenants are responsible for pest and vermin control inside the spaces they occupy.

"If a tenant comes to me and they say, 'I have a rodent issue, they're in my ceiling,' I immediately call the pest control service and they come the next day," Anderson said.

Hot Rodd Cafe, a food establishment previously located in DeSoto Square mall, reported an incidence of rodents in the ceiling to Anderson, she said. On the Hot Rodd Cafe Facebook page, the restaurant announced its decision to leave DeSoto Square mall in a March 31 post. The owners of Hot Rodd Cafe were unable to be reached for comment by end of day Tuesday.

Will returned to the theater March 24 and noted a "major rodent infestation reported by licensed pest control." Will attached a report and estimate provided by Rodent Solutions, a Bradenton-based company.

Rodent Solutions said in its March 18 estimate report "the level of infestation in the movie theatre area is a 9 out of 10, with 10 being the worst." The food service area was rated as a 4.

"This is a subjective rating based off of our experience in the field and there is no industry standard for this system," the report reads. The "findings" section of the report notes "there was also evidence in the food storage room and in the food serving area under the popcorn machine."

Florida Department of Health in Manatee County spokeswoman Megan Jourdan said the health department is only able to inspect and permit food service areas per statute, but the department can also respond to sanitary nuisance complaints in public places. Because Will did not see any evidence of rodents in the food area, the March 14 inspection was rated satisfactory.

The March 24 reinspection report rated the theater unsatisfactory in response to the Rodent Solutions report provided to the department by the mall March 23.

The pest control company's report also said there were a "tremendous" amount of rat droppings behind movie theater screens and provided a plan of action for the movie theater to address the rodent issue.

The necessary rat trapping and rat-trap checking services provided by Rodent Solutions would cost $2,252, according to the estimate. The company recommended at least three weeks of rat-trapping services with checks every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

With optional cleaning and enzyme treatments, the cost for addressing the rat problem would be more than $6,000.

According to health department inspection reports starting in 2011, the DeSoto 6 theater, previously known as DeSoto Dollar Movies, did not have any rodent issues until the March 2016 consumer complaint.

According to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the entity responsible for inspecting restaurants, the mall's food court tenants have not had any rodent or pest issues.

Joe Modica, who saw rats in the theater and made the March 14 complaint, said he is only trying to protect other people who want to enjoy the DeSoto Square mall movie theater. "The truth of it is I'm not looking to damage the business that takes place in that mall," Modica said. "Whatever the mall management or management of the theater has to do to get rid of the rats, that's what I'm after."

Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter @jayohday.

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