One of the oldest movie theaters in the state is set to go under a 10-month renovation.
A ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday kicked off construction to expand and rehabilitate the Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater.
Mayor George N. Cretekos called it a community project and harkened to the venue’s early days of popularity when a 1921 advertisement offered “clean and unique” performances.
“We are so excited about what this project means,” Cretekos said to about 100 people crowding around the front of the venue along Cleveland Street. “We’re all going to come back to what is going to be a wonderful opening.”
The Capitol Theatre, theaters in Florida.
Sen. John Taylor had the movie house built during the Clearwater’s first boom. Moving pictures ran throughout the week and vaudeville performances were Friday night.
Through the years the facility fell into disrepair. It was purchased to be renovated in 1981 but those plans didn’t materialize after the owner was found stabbed in the second floor.
The theater was bought again and used with limited success until the city purchased it in 2009 and partnered with Ruth Eckerd Hall to plan events there. Since that time there have been more than 34 sold-out shows, 226 events and concerts, with more than 60 planned during 2012.
The city purchased the properties on both sides of the theater with plans to incorporate that space as part of the expansion project. Leaders also vacated the alley behind the building. This will effectively close off the alley that connects Osceola and Fort Harrison Avenues. It also increases the footprint of the land available for development.
When the renovation is complete in October 2013 the Capitol Theatre should be able to seat 655 and feature the space needed to bring in premier performers, Ruth Eckerd Hall officials say.
To spur the project Ruth Eckerd Hall brought in performing arts guru Zev Buffman. He has produced more than 40 Broadway plays, won 29 Tony awards and overseen seven similar restoration projects throughout the country.
“There is no greater joy in theater,” Buffman said about bringing back the luster to old theaters.
When the project is complete the city would be anchored by two world class performance venues in Ruth Eckerd Hall on the east and the Capitol Theatre in the west, said Rep. Ed Hooper.
Hooper, who once served on the Clearwater City Council, said he is going to be the chair of an arts appropriation committee in Tallahassee and pledged to do what he can to funnel money to the project.
Hooper said he already was in talks with state Sen. Jack Latvala to see what they could do. The city is chipping in $7.12 million from Penny for Pinellas money to complete the project, said Bill Horne, city manager. Ruth Eckerd Hall is in the process of fundraising to complete its contribution.
“I’m going to do whatever I can to find you some money,” Hooper said.
The Lokey Building, which was most recently the office for the Chamber of Commerce building and one time space of the Clearwater Sun, will be destroyed as part of the construction plans.
The 1914 structure, one of the oldest in northern Pinellas County, was originally going to be part of the renovation. But officials decided it isn't sturdy enough to handle the load needed for a planned rooftop terrace, wraparound balcony and more to be added on top.
Buffman said the project is just the next phase in downtown redevelopment efforts that started years ago when the city started its streetscaping projects.
When construction is complete thousands of arts patrons will flock downtown, Buffman said.
“The beginning was there,” he said. “We are just the next phase.”
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