Is proposed Carefree Theatre too big for El Cid neighbors to stomach?

Updated June 24, 2016

You could hardly call the neighbors carefree.

Movie producer and real estate developer Charles Cohen’s plans to convert the long-vacant Carefree Theatre site on South Dixie Highway into a combination of apartments, art film house and restaurants has neighbors worried the project will clog local roads with traffic and illegal parkers.

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At an outreach meeting Tuesday in Memorial Presbyterian Church, about 50 residents of the high-end, historic El Cid neighborhood attended a presentation by Cohen’s lawyer, Greg Young, about the project slated for an assemblage of parcels between Flamingo Drive and Cordova Road.

Plans call for six theaters of 75-125 seats each, and 94 luxury rental apartments, in two buildings in a 1920’s Mediterranean style similar to that of The Breakers hotel. Their garages will house 500 spaces, 50 more than required, and both exits point drivers one way — back toward South Dixie and away from the neighborhood, Young said.

The theater building, called El Flamingo, on the 2000 block, will rise to 96.6 feet at its highest point, not including decorative architectural elements that are a little higher. The building with most of the apartments is called El Cordova, on the 2100 block, and will be 66.6 feet at its highest.

Not everyone jumped on Young, but safe to say it was a skeptical crowd and several didn’t hold back.

“They’re going to be parking all over our neighborhood,” one resident complained. “It’s pretty big,” said another. “It’s like, ‘we’re going to stuff it in your face a little bit.’”

Young said the developer was engaging with neighbors, the business and art communities and city staff to address concerns and win city approval. Community activist Nancy Pullum told him that a thumbs-up from chamber of commerce officials didn’t impress her because they don’t live in the neighborhood.

Cohen, who was not at Tuesday’s session, said in an email the project was compatible with plans currently under consideration to narrow that section of South Dixie Highway. He proposed to pay for installation of that “road diet” infrastructure along the 500 feet of the project’s frontage.

The project “will provide multiple reasons to slow down and stop, shop, enjoy a meal or see a movie,” he said, “and it will be a catalyst for upgrading the corridor.”