Wellington Zoners OK Movie Theater At Wellington Green

Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board recommended approval Wednesday of a variance to allow a new, upscale movie theater to be built inside the Mall at Wellington Green.

Wellington Planner Damian Newell said the theater needs a conditional approval since the Mall at Wellington Green, located in the central portion of the Wellington Green development, does not have approval for an indoor movie theater. The mall’s outparcels could have a movie theater, but one has not been built.

The 45,000-square-foot theater will have 10 screens and 1,200 seats. It will be located in part of the current Ashley Furniture space. Ashley Furniture is reducing its area to 26,530 square feet.

Also, an additional restaurant will be added to the exterior, and the mall’s roof will be raised to about 50 feet in the area of the theater to accommodate the movie screens, Newell said.

Planning consultant Chuck Millar with Shutts & Bowen said the applicant is only asking to shift the approved theater location from an existing outparcel, explaining that the proposed theater will have several entrances, and the location would be more strategically located to enhance traffic and stimulate business at other shops and restaurants within the mall.

He pointed out that Starwood Capital, the current mall owner, has 29 malls nationwide, of which 23 have theaters. The company has found that movie theaters on outparcels have less success than those in mall interiors, and minimally increase overall commerce at the malls.

Millar pointed out that they would be back for architectural approval and additional review before final approval.

Mall at Wellington Green General Manager Marc Strich said that when the original Wellington Green development was approved in 1996, it included a maximum of 26 movie screens. “We’re using a fraction of the approved number,” Strich said.

PZA Board Member Paul Adams asked what provisions are being made for security, and Strich said they will enhance its existing technical monitoring with private security and Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputies, who have an almost continuous presence at the mall.

“I am concerned that this may become a target,” Adams said, pointing out that heavy attendance could make it attractive for criminals, or perhaps even terrorists.

Strich said mall employees go through periodic training for security, and pointed out that he was at Woodfield Mall in Illinois during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“It changed our view of public safety,” Strich said. “We need to adjust, and I feel we have that capability.”

PZA Board Member George Unger suggested looking at other theaters in the area, including the Regal Cinemas in Royal Palm Beach, which has had security issues with car burglaries and other disturbances. He suggested having a full-time deputy at the new theater.

PZA Board Chair Carol Coleman asked if the added restaurant would detract from other restaurants nearby, and Strich said he received a lot of interest from other restaurants that were interested in locating near the theater, because theaters tend to attract a restaurant-friendly clientele.

PZA Board Member Michael Drahos suggested that lighting outside the area be enhanced. “People are known to linger outside,” he said.

Drahos also asked if the added restaurant would be affiliated with the theater, and Millar said that it would not, but a restaurant inside the theater would be available for takeout food.

“We’re going for an upscale feel with reclining seats and the ability to get food outside other than popcorn,” Millar said.

Drahos said he hoped that the theater would create more community appeal for the mall.

“If there has ever been a complaint about the mall it is that residents don’t feel like it is part of the community,” Drahos said.

Millar said that the mall does want to engage with the community more. “That was something the previous owner chose not to do,” he said. “We would love to embrace the community.”

Drahos made a motion to recommend approval of the variance, which carried 5-0.