Inlet Square Mall owners suing theater chain over unpaid rent

MURRELLS INLET The owner of Inlet Square Mall here is suing one of its largest tenants – the Frank Theatres entertainment complex – for repeatedly failing to make lease payments, raising questions about the struggling shopping center’s future.

Murrells Retail Associates says the theater chain owes $201,363 in unpaid rent and the mall owner wants a judge to accelerate nearly $24 million worth of payments due under a 20-year lease agreement signed in 2011. No court date has been scheduled.

Michelle Guillery, director of marketing for the Jupiter, Fla.-based Frank Entertainment Co., could not be reached for comment Thursday. The theater chain has not filed a response to the breach of contract lawsuit, which was filed on Wednesday at the Horry County courthouse.

Ann Kyle, the mall’s general manager, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

This is not the first time Frank Theatres has failed to make its lease payments at Inlet Square Mall. Court documents show the 11-screen theater complex – which also includes a bowling alley, arcade and restaurant – previously fell behind on its lease payments by $590,672.

The mall’s management agreed to defer $395,796 of that amount until after the tenth year of the lease and then forgave another $194,876 that was owed under the condition that no further defaults would occur. The theater group’s latest failure to pay rent violated that agreement, according to court documents.

Frank Theatres operates 25 theaters in seven states and also has a 12-screen location in Conway called Rivertown Stadium.

Inlet Square Mall’s owners hoped the 62,000-square-foot theater and entertainment complex, which opened two years ago, would rejuvenate the 33-year-old shopping center, which has struggled to attract tenants and shoppers since emerging from bankruptcy protection in 2009.

The theater was the centerpiece of a $4.5 million facelift that gave the mall new flooring, ceiling, lighting and skylight enhancements. Despite the improvements, many storefronts remain empty although mainstay anchor tenants Belk, JC Penney, Stein Mart and Kmart remain.