JACKSONVILLE, FL, October 9, 2023 – The wait is over. The paint and plaster are dry. The newly renovated historic Florida Theatre in downtown Jacksonville is set to reopen on Saturday, October 28, 2023, at 8 p.m. for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Mayor Donna Deegan and other dignitaries will participate in a ribbon cutting on Friday, October 27, 2023, at 5:30 p.m. inside the lobby/auditorium for the big reveal.
The Florida Theatre has been closed since mid-July (2023) to renovate the 96-year-old facility. All the flaking and peeling decorative plaster in the auditorium has been repaired, the lobbies and the auditorium have been painted with fidelity to the 1927 color palette, the entire heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system has been replaced, and the building’s electrical vault has been moved from the first to the third floor. But probably the thing people will notice the most is that all the public restrooms have been updated. Ironically, the Florida Theatre will reopen around the 40th anniversary of the last major renovation that took place in 1983. See photos of the summer 2023 restoration here.
These projects build upon projects that have already been accomplished at the Florida Theatre, which include replacing the Theatre’s 1,865 seats, doubling the wheelchair seating capacity, installing a new assistive listening system for people who are hard of hearing, improving the aisle lighting and handrails, especially in the balcony, installing a new concert sound system and lighting system, and repurposing the second floor of the office building into the new Remedy Lounge, which was the first expansion of the venue’s public space in 95 years.
This project has been a labor of love…from The City of Jacksonville (who has matched private donations) to the Centennial Campaign donors to Florida Theatre Members to the Principal Artisans below who have been feverishly restoring the building to its original grandeur over the summer…and everyone in Northeast Florida who has ever bought a ticket to a show at the Florida Theatre and paid the $4.50 restoration fee…to maintain and preserve this Jacksonville jewel.
“The Florida Theatre is one of downtown Jacksonville's gems. With its 100th birthday approaching, this is an exciting time to restore the Theatre to its full splendor,” said Mayor Donna Deegan. “I look forward to seeing the Theatre’s facelift and supporting our City’s vibrant performing arts scene by attending a show when it reopens – and I encourage everyone to do the same.”
Auld and White Constructors was the general contractor for this project. Sauer Mechanical did the HVAC work. EverGreene Architectural Arts did all the plaster/paint work and restored the tapestries. And Beacon Electric moved the electrical vault from the first to the third floor so it would no longer be a flood risk.
“Auld & White Constructors is honored to have been Florida Theatre's Construction Partner for its renovations and next-generation mechanical system upgrades. AWC recognizes that the timely completion of the recent work at Jacksonville's iconic cultural hub was critical in enhancing the patron experience for the Theatre's upcoming shows and Centennial Celebration. I'm proud of our team's hard work and unwavering dedication to preserving the legacy and building the future of this historic Northeast Florida landmark for years to come,” said Nate Marty, CEO of Auld & White Constructors.
“Sauer Mechanical is proud to participate in the historic Florida Theatre renovation. During the shut-down period, we have replaced the aging rooftop chillers with new Daikin air-cooled chillers and the sixth-floor custom-built air handler and outdoor air unit with all associated chilled water piping air distribution. HVAC upgrades during this phase also included demolition of the boiler system no longer in use, replacing restroom exhaust fans, and upgrading the controls system,” said Heather Staggs-Miller, Project Manager with Sauer Mechanical.
“There were several things that were unique about the Florida Theatre project,” said Jeff Greene AIC-PA, Executive Chairman & Founder of EverGreene Architectural Arts. “Like the mysterious connection to John Eberson, one of America’s most prominent architects known for movie palace designs in the atmospheric theatre style (the outdoor feel inside). The original four faux tapestries that hang in the Florida Theatre were painted. Since they are the same size and have the same imagery as the ones in the Tampa Theatre (which Eberson did), we were able to replicate them. When we did our forensic research and put all the Theatre finishes under the microscope, we realized they were painted with the same paint and style that Eberson used. His signature, per se. It was fascinating to see what his influence did.”
Greene said, “A big part of what we do at EverGreene is connect back to history. We wanted to return the Florida Theatre to its original, authentic self. When the building was renovated in the 1970s, they moved away from that a bit. We wanted to return as accurately as possible to what it looked like in 1927. The challenge was the short time frame we had. The surprise or mystery was the Eberson connection. But we did our research, added some interpretation, and found the harmony and balance we were striving for.”
“As a lifelong resident of Jacksonville with many wonderful memories surrounding the Florida Theatre, this project has been a challenging opportunity for Beacon as well as an honor to be part of,” said Shawn Heath, Owner of Beacon Electrical Contractors. Beacon moved the building’s electrical vault from the first to the third floor and replaced most of the electrical panels and the conduit systems that supply power to the electrical panels.
“Over the last four years, by the end of this calendar year, we will have raised and spent $15 million on building improvements to the historic Florida Theatre,” said Numa Saisselin, President of the Florida Theatre. “After this, there’s about $8 million left of work to do to get the rest of the building where it needs to be, including expanding the entry lobby, a new artist hospitality space, dressing room improvements, marquee restorations, and administrative office improvements,” said Saisselin. According to Saisselin, the cherry on top would be bringing the original vertical blade sign back (pictured here) that used to adorn the Theatre.
All of these projects, under the banner of the Centennial Capital Improvement Plan, which started in 2019, aim to prepare the historic Florida Theatre for its 100th birthday in 2027 and the next 100 years.
“Our $15 million renovation has intensified the already unique Florida Theatre experience - it’s truly at a new level. And we can’t wait for our customers to see! As the Theatre approaches its 100th birthday in 2027, we must remember – this is one of the last remaining theatres of its kind in our country! And we have to take care of it, nurture it, and support it so we can continue to laugh, cry, dance, sing, and do all that we do in our beloved Florida Theatre,” said Dr. Leslie Gordon, Ed.D., Chairperson of the Board of Directors at the Florida Theatre.
About the Florida Theatre
The Florida Theatre is a 1,865-seat historic theatre located in downtown Jacksonville, Florida, that first opened its doors on April 8, 1927, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The Florida Theatre Performing Arts Center, Inc. is a private, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1987 to manage, program, and preserve the historic Florida Theatre in a public/private partnership with the City of Jacksonville, which owns the building. Learn more at www.floridatheatre.com.