© 2023 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

The Tampa Theatre is in line for a $14 million face-lift

The Tampa Theatre in the late afternoon with its lights off.
Sky Lebron
WUSF Public Media
The Tampa Theatre building closed for phase I renovations

The Tampa Community Redevelopment Agency approved $14 million in funding to restore the historic Tampa Theatre.

For nearly 100 years, the Tampa Theatre has been home to classic films, concerts, and special events. But like most buildings of the same age, time has taken its toll.

Unreliable plumbing and a failing air-conditioning unit are among the many issues that the theater faces.

"Well if you own or operate a 97-year-old building, you can basically throw a dart, and anything you hit will need some attention," said John Bell, the theater's president and CEO.

"Specifically, there is a lot of infrastructure work in a building of this size and age that needs to be addressed. And that stuff behind the walls people don't see, but are essential to making a building operate efficiently."

The theater was almost demolished in 1973, but public outcry led to the Tampa City Council to buying and preserving the building. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and was named a Tampa City Landmark in 1988. Many are still passionate about preserving this little piece of 1926.

"We're very committed to presenting an authentic theater that's done the way it was built in 1926, in terms of aesthetics and the paint and plaster and look of the building," Bell said.

The Tampa Community Reservation Agency has approved a $14 million funding request from the theater that will be used to breathe new life into the downtown property, while still keeping its iconic look.

Tampa Theatre

Phase I of the renovations took place in 2017. The seats in the theater, as well as the lobby concession stand were replaced, and the carpet and drapes were replaced to better reflect the original vibrant colors of the interior.

The next phase of renovations includes a second screen room, extra production space and updates to plumbing and the HVAC system. Bell said some of the latter components date back to the theater's opening when it was the first public building in Tampa with central air conditioning.

"And then on top of that, there's a lot of production and presentation systems that need to be brought up to the 21st century, we're basically an analog theater in a digital world. So we need to provide those systems that artists and performers expect when they walk into a venue in the 21st century," Bell said.

he also wants people to rest assured that the theater's famed 1,400-pipe Wurlitzer organ will remain in the building but be installed in a new location to enhance its performance.

Bell hopes that the restorations will be finished in time for the theater's 100th birthday in 2026.

In addition to being a landmark of the city, the theater is also a strong economic driver. According to Tampa Theatre officials, over 150,000 guests visit year-round and supply more than 240 full-time jobs, generating $800,000 in state tax revenue.

Thomas Ouellette is is the WUSF Rush Family / USF Zimmerman Radio News intern for spring of 2023.
WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.