ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Paul and Rebecca Morris aim to turn a forgotten part of St. Augustine into a business for families like theirs.
The couple has plans to revive an old movie theater on Washington Street in the Lincolnville neighborhood.
Currently on the property, there is a fenced-in green space and a shell of the old theater building. The couple have been cleaning up the property for months, taking out mounds of trash left behind by vagrants.
Looking around at the much improved space Thursday, Paul Morris said, "The area itself has a great feeling."
He and his wife live just around the corner and have three children.
Their plan calls for leaving the roof off of the building and turning the whole space into a dinner theater... without a roof.
"On a fine night, you could sit under the stars and watch a movie against the walls," Mr. Morris smiled.
Mrs. Morris pointed to a cement block wall and envisioned, "This is where the stage will be for the theater and the screen will fill up a large percentage of that wall."
The projection room from the 1940's is under what's left of the building's roof. The room is complete with old movie projectors and movie seats.
The couple dream of turning the green area just outside the building into a garden. "It will be a garden with, private creations for people to sit and have their dinner," Mrs. Morris explained.
The Morris' plan to sell beer and wine at the theater.
Some neighbors in that Lincolnville neighborhood are concerned about alcohol sales right next to a homeless shelter, the St. Francis House.
However, the St. Francis House director supports the movie theater. Director Renee Morris (no relation) said she was leery of the alcohol sales next door at first. However, she said she knows the Morris family, she believes they would not tolerate excessive drinking, and she thinks a family business would benefit the neighborhood.
"This will not be a place where you just buy a beer," Mrs. Morris explained her plan. There are hundreds of bars in St. Augustine. That's where you go to buy a beer. This is where you come to buy a movie ticket, if you'd like a beer with whatever the meal is, we hope that will be available for you."
Carrie Johnson, a Lincolnville resident and active citizen, remembers going to that theater in the 1940's.
It was a theater for blacks during the time of segregation.
"I was a little girl, a teenager," she recalled.
Johnson now works at the homeless shelter next door. She's not thrilled about the proposed theater's alcohol sales, but she still invites the theater.
"We don't have anything over here in Lincolnville. And I'm looking for economic development and that would be a start," Johnson noted.
Mrs. Morris said, "This will be the first business that returns to Lincolnville in a number of years. And I think that would be a good accomplishment."
The City of St. Augustine does not have an issue with alcohol sales at the proposed theater.
However, the Planning and Zoning Board has tabled the theater issue because of its lack of parking spaces. The Morris family will have to find off-site parking before the city allows it to open for business. The board will take up the issue again in September.
"I do have a vision, definitely a strong vision, and it's going to take a lot of work," Mrs. Morris noted.
She envisions a "space where children are safe and contained, and parents are relaxed, and an all-around feel-good evening for a family."
First Coast News