Thursday, 01 January 2009 14:48

Ruth Eckerd Hall Purchase of The Royalty Theatre in Downtown Clearwater Florida Featured

Written by  Heidi Lux
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The Royalty aka Capitol Theatre right across the Street from the new Waters Edge Complex Downtown Clearwater FL. Photo by Ian PhoenixRuth Eckerd Hall Restores “Capitol”

Clearwater FL, December 31, 2008 - Downtown Clearwater is undeniably expanding. With the recent sprouting of  towering condos and tasty restaurants, the city’s growth can no longer be hidden. The downtown area is now expanding in a new direction. A performing arts center.

From the penthouse of the Waters Edge building, Mayor Frank Hibbard and Robert Freedman on behalf of Ruth Eckerd Hall delightedly announced Ruth Eckerd Hall’s purchase of The Royalty Theatre, with the intention of  injecting Downtown Clearwater with a shot of culture. The creation of a performing arts center is expected to stimulate the economy of Downtown Clearwater by increasing and strengthening the arts presence which in turn  will draw people and businesses to the downtown area, hopefully creating the right environment in which private businesses can prosper.

The Royalty Theatre will be returning to its roots, as well as its original name, The Capitol Theatre. “I’m starting that trend right now,” joked Mayor Hibbard. The name of the theatre changed to The Royalty Theatre in the 1990’s when it was purchased by The Royalty Theatre, a local community theatre company.

The Capitol was believed to have been built in 1896, but upon research by Ruth Eckerd Hall, it was discovered the theatre was actually built in 1921. The reason for the mix up is because a different theatre in downtown, a few doors down from The Capitol, was built in 1896 but burned down, and the dates of the theatres got confused. However, The Capitol Theatre remains the second oldest theatre in the state of Florida.

In its 87 year history, The Capitol has been the proud host to celebrities including Elvis Presley, Clark Gable, Bob Hope, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. To record this riveting history, Ruth Eckerd Hall has been playing with the idea of offering a blog in which citizens can write about the history of the theatre, and their memories. 

Royalty Theatre Downtown Clearwater FL

The current plans for the new theatre are to restore the original look of the 1920’s theatre, but to update it  here necessary. For instance, since people have become larger than they were in the 20’s, the theatre will become larger too. According to the current design plan, on the first floor, the lobby will be enlarged  to make room for a modernized concession stand and more restroom space. The larger dressing rooms, offices, and possibly a donor room will be located on the second floor. The stage house will be rebuilt and the current stage extension jutting out past the proscenium arch will be taken out and replaced with an orchestra pit to accommodate musicals. The current 433 seats in the Royalty will become 655 seats in The Capitol. Ruth Eckerd Hall does not plan to create parking for the theatre, but might offer valet.

Architect Steve Fowler is working on the design for the new theatre, and he will be consulting with architect R.J. Heisenbottle, the historic preservation and restoration expert behind the restoration of the Belleview Biltmore and Robert Lorelli, one of the top theatre consultants in the country.

The whole project will cost an estimated $14.2 million, including the $2.4 million to buy the theatre and $6.8 million for construction. The design and construction of the project is estimated to take nine months, but will not begin until all the funds are in place. Along with the fundraising, Mr. Freedman estimates the theatre to be finished “two years from January,” but will not commit to a specific date. However, the Ruth Eckerd Hall was built ahead of schedule and under budget, and that is the same goal for the Capitol. Ruth Eckerd Hall also has the lowest operating cost of any major performing arts center in the state of Florida. 

Robert Freedman President CEO Ruth Eckerd Hall Inc. Photo by Tampa Bay Informer.

Mr. Freedman gave his thanks to Lisa Mansell, the Community Affairs Director for the Church of Scientology, for making the project possible. “If it wasn’t for Lisa Mansell, making phone calls, getting things back on track, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Possible programming for The Capitol Theatre includes the annual Jazz Holiday, a singer/songwriter series, classical music and dance presentations. Mr. Freedman also flirted with the idea of purchasing an old fashioned organ to accompany silent film screenings, similar to The Tampa Theatre. Ruth Eckerd Hall also plans to use the space as a vehicle to introduce up and coming artists to the community.

Ruth Eckerd Hall sealed the deal on December 9th, and the cleanup is currently in progress.

During the fundraising phase of the project, we can expect a few performances, but not until the cleanup is complete. When asked by Tampa Bay Informer reporters as to when performances could be expected, Mr. Freedman gave a cheeky smile, and with a twinkle in his eye, gave the date he could absolutely commit to, “Soon.”

- Tampa Bay Informer
The Good News Newspaper

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Read 2030 times Last modified on Thursday, 22 October 2009 16:01