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Latest proposal gives new life to Carefree Theater

The Carefree Theater on 2000 and 2100 S. Dixie Highway proudly hosted comedians, movie stars and locals for over 50 years. It weathered a car crash and a hurricane, only to be torn down and forgotten for a decade. Three more years of negotiations left its fate in limbo. Now, 80 years after Carefree Theater first opened as an ice cream parlor, it’s back. . . maybe.

Owner of the property Charles S. Cohen had been struggling to come up with a proposal that matched his vision and satisfied community standards. But the leaders and locals who came to preview Cohen’s plan last week seem to think it is a step in the right direction.

“I’m pleasantly surprised,” said one woman who lives a few streets away from the project site and requested to remain anonymous. “I came here pooh-poohing it, but I am impressed.”

The new proposal is similar to Cohen’s previous ideas, but it is scaled down to be less of an intrusion on the residential area surrounding the lot.

Cohen plans to build two four-story apartment buildings. The focal point of the design is six different movie theaters, including one reserved for showing old black and white films, dedicated to preserving the legacy of the old Carefree Theater.

“This plan celebrates a point in time long past through architectural influences, great art and traditional design,” Cohen said.

The buildings will include restaurant space, rooftop pools, clubhouses and underground parking.

But parking is still a major concern for local residents. Insufficient space and an overflow of customers created conflict in the past.

“I don’t want something that is going to cause a parking issue and a lot of traffic,” said the local woman. “The plan seems to have a lot of parking, but the question is, is it enough?”

Until that question is answered, community leaders remain hopeful that this plan will be the last.

“This provides a basis for a conversation that didn’t exist before,” former President of the El Cid Historic Neighborhood Association Kevin Lawler said.

The last three years of back-and-forth between Cohen and the community have been less than harmonious.

But Cohen insists that he would not do anything differently.
“This proposal is a response to comments and suggestions from previous plans,” Cohen said.

President of the Citizens for Thoughtful Growth Nancy Pullum has been proactive about making sure the needs of the community are protected throughout the process. She is still waiting on more information before she is ready to accept Cohen’s new plan, but she does say that this proposal is more in line with zoning regulations.

Pullum also said that this plan proves that Cohen is finally ready to compromise.

“Sometimes when they say they can’t do better, they actually can,” Pullum said.

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