St. Petersburg’s newest performing arts venue will most likely debut this spring.
It’s not new, exactly. The State Theatre closed in 2018, a concert hall beset by numerous problems, including fire code violations that significantly reduced its capacity, which severely undercut management’s ability to attract big-name acts.
By then, the State had been in a state of physical (and financial) decline for decades.
Real estate broker Kevin Chadwick then paid $2.1 million for the building at 687 Central Avenue. Chadwick says renovations are just about complete, and the “new” State Theatre might be ready for a late-April opening, as a multi-purpose venue for concerts and other performance events.
Although, he stresses, “The time frame is not as important as the end result.”
A second-generation St. Pete native, Chadwick remembers the State Theatre of his youth, one of the last first-run movie houses left standing downtown. It was transformed into a concert hall and bar in the 1980s, when the mall multiplex rendered single-screen theaters obsolete.
The State was built in 1924, as the Alexander National Bank, and had been re-designed for movies after World War II. It was listed on the St. Petersburg Register of Historic Places in 1991.
Chadwick had something specific in mind when he and architect Jack Bodziak began putting the 8,600-square-foot space under a magnifying glass.
“They renovations are extensive,” he says. “And they’re meaningful – anything that was added in the last 20 years, we’ve completely demoed out. Any of the garbage that’s been added. And everything that is being renovated is being done so with materials of the time frame of truly the Roaring ‘20s.”
The general contractor is Boyd Construction. Creative Arts Unlimited is bringing back the building’s original art deco look.
“Once we got in there, the infrastructure was in disrepair,” says operating partner Brandon Huskins. “It was ‘Well, if we want it to be great, we need to re-do this; we need to re-do that. And it all just added up to ‘Shoot, let’s just do the whole thing then.’
“Everything was gutted. The directive was, if it wasn’t original in the building, take it out.’”
The floor was completely removed, revealing the original 1924 8×8-foot, hand-crafted concrete tiles. Sections were damaged, however, but Chadwick and his crew were able to locate exact reproductions.
An 18-foot “blade sign” has already been fabricated for the State’s facade.
There will be a fully-restored bar, and plans call for partnerships with area restaurants for food service.
“The State Theatre has gone through a number of evolutions in its life, and I think this is going to be one of the nicest time periods that the theater has probably ever had,” Chadwick enthuses.
“I don’t think downtown St. Pete has ever been more raging, more roaring, than it is right now. I think we’re in one of the best times of St. Petersburg’s history. I want to restore this theater truly, authentically to its historical roots.”
According to Huskins, who has worked with the David A. Straz Center, Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Capitol Theatre, the building itself may be designer-retro, but the stage lights and sound system will be state-of-the-art, designed and installed by ESI, one of Florida’s top production companies (Ruth Eckerd, Amalie Arena).
Huskins estimates the approximately 800-seat venue will host 50 to 60 “name” concerts per year, “high-end stuff that maybe you would never have thought would play at the State Theatre,” and be available to local and regional organizations for rentals.
“We want to offer diverse programming that everyone in St. Pete, at some point, will have something to come and check out,” he says, adding that promoters have already begun making inquiries.
Corporate and company rentals will be encouraged, for meetings, conventions and other programming needs.
Chadwick, who operates the largest Keller Williams franchise in Florida with 10 offices in Tampa, 1,300 agents and $3.2 billion in annual revenue, bought the State through his Kevin L. Chadwick Family Trust (his children, he enjoys saying, are third-generation St. Pete natives).
“A legacy property is, in my hopes, a property that will remain in my family for the next hundred years,” he explains. “In 2024, it’s going to be its 100th anniversary. And I am building this theater to last the next hundred years. Not just for the sake of my family, but St. Pete needs a link to our history, and a place for adults to go, play and have fun.”
He declines to reveal how much money he’s putting towards the renovations. “To do something meaningful, and to do something significant,” he says, “it takes twice as long and twice as much money.”