Residents are expressing a sense of betrayal at the news that the Rialto Theater will be converted to a gym at Spanish Springs Town Square.
The end of the Rialto occurs at a time when The Villages remains tight-lipped about the future of the Barnstorm Theater at Brownwood.
“Sad to see the Rialto Theater closing. I was hoping they would finish the remodeling. Still hoping they will open the Barnstorm theater soon. I live south of 44 and I have been going to Epic theaters in Clermont recently. They have 16 screens and have comfortable leather recliner seats. They don’t seem to have problems getting movies. Maybe The Villages should sell their theaters to them,” said William Parker of the Village of Monarch Grove.
Michele Utter of the Village of Sanibel has also been forced to see movies outside of The Villages.
“Well, from three theaters to one. Not surprising. We have stood in line only to be told the movie is sold out or the only seats are way up front. Guess Leesburg will be seeing more of us. Friendliest hometown is forcing us to go elsewhere. For all those interested, you can buy tickets online and pick your seats, too. Seats are recliners and very comfy. Take your blankeys,” she said.
Harriett Finch of the Village of Country Club Hills said the loss of the Rialto is one more blow to the original town square, which was the vision of Harold Schwartz, the founder of The Villages.
“Too much is gone: church services, going to the movies, walking around town and ample parking,” she said. “I wanted my grandchildren to be able to visit the small town created at Spanish Springs. It’s not ‘the old days’ I miss. It is the quality of experiences I crave.”
Wayne Bentley of the Village of Silver Lake said that for more than two years, the Developer dangled the hope that the Rialto would reopen.
“We were promised a renovated experience by the Developer for the Rialto, yet we were played for a fool, with a bait and switch. Now, the Rialto, too, will disappear, to be replaced with the relocated gym. There are already so many ways to exercise, become fit, and stay healthy in The Villages, we didn’t need to lose a theater in order to relocate a gym. In the end, it’s all part of a plan by the Developer to add more apartments to Spanish Springs, first where Katie Belle’s once resided, now to the area once occupied by the gym,” he said.