The world's largest drive-in movie theatre is one step closer to becoming a reality in Central Florida thanks to a 4/1 vote by the City of Eustis City Council Thursday March 12th.
The plans call for an $8 million project called The Lighthouse Five on a property located on the north side of CR 44 between State Road 19 and Hicks Ditch Road.
The project is the brainchild of film director, writer, and former Eustis resident Spencer T Folmar.
Folmar says it will be the "largest drive in theatre in the world" with five screens and concessions areas. He's already submitted paperwork to the Guinness Book of World Records to nab the "world's biggest" title for the project.
"We're excited to bring tourism and economic development to this area," he told the Council Thursday.
The Council approved Resolution 20-18 approving the sale and purchase of a 71.4 acre property between the City and Spencetf LLC (Website) for the amount of $460,000 with the amendment of a deed restriction that says (1) the developer cannot build anything other than the drive in theatre until at least two screens have been built and (2) if the two screens are not built the option cannot be exercised.
This is the first of many steps the developer will be going through in the coming years to get the project approved and completed.
Eustis is a 45 minute drive from downtown Orlando.
Each screen would be dedicated to a specific type of content. Three screens would be dedicated to first run content like Hollywood blockbusters that "everyone comes together as a community and sees," Folmar said. One screen would be dedicated to nostalgia programming aimed at the retirement community nearby. He gave the film titles Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz, and Citizen Cane as examples of nostalgia content. The final screen would be dedicated to independent filmmakers' content from film festival in and outside of Florida.
To the south of the drive in movie theatre would be a shopping center with restaurants and retail. To the west would be camping and recreational activity facilities with a nature trail connecting to a county park.
One million dollars in advertising and promotions would be spent to promote the City "as a tourism boost" by Folmar's company.
The project, which already has a Facebook page, would be built out in three phases.
Phase 1 would include the development of the five screen drive in theatre. When complete this phase is expected to create 75 jobs.
Phase 2 would include an 80-site RV park campground and nature park to the west of the drive-in with a nature trail connecting to a new county park. Folmer says he will work with nature organizations in the area and the state of Florida to develop this area as it is wetlands land. Phase 2 would bring over 150 jobs.
Phase 3 would include a shopping center with restaurants and retail and a WAWA gas station just south of the drive-in.
Once all three phases are finalized, the City stands to make $64,000 tax revenue and the County $387,000 County tax revenue.
In December 2019, Spencer Folmar contacted the City of Eustis interested in purchasing for a proposed entertainment venue. Mr. Folmar and his representatives continued to explore the concept, culminating in a site visit in early February.
On February 6, Mr. Folmar and his team presented the proposed idea: a five-screen drive-in movie theater project with associated restaurants, concessions, and entertainment to the Eustis City Commission. At that meeting, City Commission directed staff to prepare a purchase agreement for consideration.
Subsequent to that direction, the City Attorney and City Manager worked to draft the agreement and included a number of stipulations to protect the City’s interests. Those stipulations included a provision that the project must be consistent with the drive-in project originally presented to the City Commission as well as a timeline for performance.
At the February 20th Commission meeting, there was a straw vote on the project and it was denied 3 to 1. A missing Council person arrived late who'd been listening on his phone said he'd have voted nay had he been present. The developer asked to have consideration postponed to the March 5th meeting to enable the developer to present additional information to the Commission.
At the March 5th meeting the developer presented a proposal to purchase the property for the full market price shown by the Property Appraiser of $460,000 with the agreement that the additional provisions required by the City would be removed from the agreement.
Following discussion regarding the differences between what was originally presented to the Commission and what was presented March 5th, the Commission agreed to table consideration to a special meeting on March 12th to give them time to review the new information and, presumably, have a full Commission present.