High Springs to review options for Priest Theatre 

High Springs City Hall and sign
Photo by Seth Johnson

The High Springs City Commission voted to conduct an assessment of the Priest Theatre and to explore options for moving forward, including potential ownership by the city.  

The commission also set an initial fire assessment rate and moved a 44-unit subdivision forward. 

The Priest Theatre has been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, showing Disney’s “Onward” before the lights shut off. According to the theatre’s Facebook page, the owners considered selling before the pandemic hit.  

Become A Member

Mainstreet does not have a paywall, but pavement-pounding journalism is not free. Join your neighbors who make this vital work possible.

“Due to the consequences resulting from COVID, an unpredictable and slow film market, we do not know the exact and perfect plan,” a post said about reopening. “It would not be advantageous for us to open our doors and suffer greater financial avail.” 

Structural problems came to light with large price tags attached, forcing the theatre to stay vacant and slated for demolition for a time. 

Built in 1910, community members came forward at Thursday’s meeting remembering Saturday matinee showings for only 10 cents and asking the city to help save the historic landmark. 

A recent appropriation from the State Legislature for $1,040,450 would give the city a boost, but commissioners posed questions about whether those funds would cover the cost to renovate the deteriorating building.  

City Manager Ashley Stathatos said the building had become blighted and pointed to the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) as a source of funding for the city. The appropriation from the state requires a $250,000 local match, and Stathatos said the project folds into the CRA’s goals of removing blight and creating economic development.  

A little over a year ago, the city investigated taking over the theatre. Stathatos advised against the project at the time. 

“We would like to see the Priest thrive and be a vibrant part of the city, but it just wasn’t feasible for us to take on that project at the time,” Stathatos said. 

With the state money, the formula might work out.  

She asked the City Commission to authorize an assessment of the building and community meetings to bring back data and recommend a path forward.  

That data would address questions like how long the city would need to manage the theatre before selling it to a private entity, whether the city could run a public-private partnership and how long the state money will be available.  

Commissioner Ross Ambrose said the city needs to continue looking at partners, especially Alachua County.  

“This is an opportunity that we need to seriously look at,” Ambrose said. “There are a lot of pieces to this, but it’s still a bigger bite than we can take.” 

He said the state appropriation probably isn’t enough to do the job well but noted that the city can leverage that money for more grants.  

Commissioners Katherine Weitz, Tristan Grunder and Byran Williams agreed that the city would benefit from a reopened Priest Theatre and that the city should look into options.  

“For what this town is and for what that theatre has meant to this town, we owe it to everybody to try to get that thing back up and running,” Grunder said as a packed chamber applauded its support.  

With the theatre shut down, the closest place to go to the movies is Gainesville since none of the county’s smaller municipalities have a theatre.  

Besides movies, commissioners also discussed using the space for other community events like graduations or recitals if the city can find a way to reopen the space.  

Fire assessment 

The City Commission approved a preliminary fire assessment rate at Thursday’s meeting. A final vote to set the assessment will come on Aug. 10.  

The current proposal keeps the rate the same at $223 per residential dwelling unit. Cost for businesses vary based on the industry.  

Proposed fire assessment rate:  

  • Residential: $223 per dwelling unit  
  • Commercial: $0.09 per square foot with a 40,000-square-foot cap 
  • Industrial/Warehouse: $0.02 per square foot with a 40,000-square-foot cap 
  • Institutional: $0.16 per square foot with a 40,000-square-foot cap 

Hidden Springs Villas preliminary approval 

The City Commission has already approved a development agreement for the subdivision, located off Railroad Avenue and between NW 225th Terrace and NW 229th Way. 

The subdivision will contain 44 townhomes split into 11 identical four-unit sections. The project will need to return for final approval to the plat.  

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t the city of High Springs already own the house across the street from Palms Medical and next to/behind the Steakout that has been sitting on blocks with construction fencing for years with nothing being done? It’s sad that the history of the Priest theater is at a loss but the Alligood families management, the city and 2 go fund me fundraisers long before covid weren’t enough to save it and perhaps it’s time to stop being sentimental about a failed PRIVATE business and perhaps tear it down, reuse the bricks for something to mark the spot with a plaque or can every High Springs business expect a city bailout every time they’re in trouble?

citizen Sane

Teresa, you must be from Gainesville, where every historical building has been torn down. This theater has thousands of great memories for all those who came here over the years.
Hats off to those on the local city commission in their attempt to save this priceless theater.