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Community Voices: There’s still time to save ‘The State’

Scott Bitterli

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Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

In response to a St. Pete Catalyst article titled, “Goodbye, State Theatre. Hello, Floridian Social Club”, local Scott Bitterli wrote the following:

While I understand that everything comes and goes, and the new owners have poured tons of money and everything it takes to rejuvenate a 100-year-old iconic venue, I just died a little inside.

I, like so many others, have spent decades attending a ridiculous array of shows/concerts at the State and have a reverence and nostalgia for my experiences there and its collective history in the character of downtown St. Pete. I’ve happily participated in and defended the modernization of downtown and the 600 Block for quite a while, unlike most of the OGs, so I’m not just another naysayer. I absolutely LOVE that this historic building is being brought back to life with so much care and exuberance, while other local landmarks are torn down and still neglected.

Since it was bought and closed, I have been anxiously awaiting its reopening and preparing to welcome it back as a much needed, reinvigorated venue for our music scene and nightlife. Now, I am worried. With this new name, branding, vision, I am worried for what may have been lost forever.

The State Theatre, for most of its life that I was a part of, was mostly dingy, banged up, often stank, and was underutilized, but was constantly welcoming to all forms of life and segments of our society and their music. From the huge national acts or local performers, grimy and violent punks, to the drug-fueled techno dancers, to ghetto booty nights, to the sad ’80s cover bands, to funk and soul, to metal, reggae, and everything in between; it offered a chance for everyone and anyone to feel like their niche scene had a home venue. This new branding tells me, “those people” and “that music” will need to find a new home.

Changing the name of a local institution after 80 years is a huge risk and I hope it’s been carefully considered by knowledgeable people. The reputation of the State Theatre was overall very positive, and could have easily been built upon and carried over as a persevering icon. But this change signifies to the everyone, that what was before will not be again. And that is sad.

In some circles, a “social club” may have once been innocently known as a place where like-minded or culturally related people gather privately to relax, celebrate, do business or whatever. But mostly, to most people, it means exclusivity, segregation, classism, privilege, wealth and power. A place where the elite can go to be safe from the lower uncivilized masses. This is a bad look.

I can see that the Chadwicks had a big dream, along with the guts, determination, skills and resources to pull it off. Because of all that, they have certainly earned the right to put their personal flavor or spin into this space. Unfortunately, this concept feels to be a step too far into a different world that is not welcoming to those local masses that generated so much momentum in that place over the decades.

Exclusivity itself may create some value to some people, but when its novelty wears off and there isn’t the rich diversity of free, fun, vibrant, creative spirits to attract new throngs and unique subsets of the public to regenerate the culture, it will be old and stuffy and stale before you know it. And it won’t be “The State.”

I’m still optimistic and open-minded. This new venture still has time. It’s not open, or over, yet. I just hope the people behind this vision reconsider their mission and message and be open to riding the wave of momentum that has been generated by thousands of performers and generations of their fans. Don’t lose your customers before you even open the doors.

CityZen – Loyal St. Petian & downtowner from the dark old days till today.

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10 Comments
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10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Robert Bitterli

    April 16, 2020at12:18 am

    Thanks for writing Scott! Perhaps the name of the building landmark should stay the ‘State Theater’. The club could be named, ‘The Social Club at the State Theater’. Sounds pretty classy as well. Then the venue can be for other purposes like events, concerts, lectures, debates, etc. My thoughts. Bob Bitterli

  2. Avatar

    Debra Roman

    April 16, 2020at10:28 am

    Thank you Scott, for writing about this. Your comments echo my own feelings, and I’m sure those of most others as well.

    Hopefully the new owners will consider yours and Bob’s suggestions as a path to a successful renovated venue that we all anticipate enjoying once again.

    Debra Roman

  3. Avatar

    Original Jud

    April 16, 2020at10:43 am

    That venue and the size it was allowed a regular slate of national touring acts to play indoors in our city.
    It also allowed plenty of local bands an opportunity to grace that stage with the big boys. Nothing like it left in the city and the 662 and FUBAR killed it all. Lots of good American cities of all sizes all have venues just like it and hold on to them. St Pete shipped most of those shows over to Tampa.

  4. Avatar

    Jennifer Jacey

    April 16, 2020at11:20 am

    This is so beautiful expressed. Thank you for speaking up and putting our thoughts into written form.

  5. Avatar

    John Arduser

    April 16, 2020at3:07 pm

    Keep the State Theater the State Theater! Don’t change the name, please! We (the fans—the longtime true supporters of the State) need SOME continuity.

  6. Avatar

    chris giuffre

    April 16, 2020at9:07 pm

    Scott, well stated (oops), and expertly placed. The State holds a place in people’s hearts *because* of its low key egalitarianism, not despite it. Few people looked forward to a show there because of its potential, but because of its charm. Few people declined to attend a show there because it lacked, but instead because a promoter may have tried to push a VIP area, or some such exclusivity. And bands loved playing there because it brought an enthusiastic crowd in an awesome room.

    When I came to St. Pete over thirty years ago as a bright eyed college-bound young man, what attracted me most to this city, over all the others I visited, was its down to earth, unpretentious, egalitarian vibe. Sure, it was the late 80’s, not exactly alot happening, and it may not have known what kind of city it wanted to be yet, but it was clear then, and all through the ensuing 25 years, what kind of city it was not, nor wanted to be…
    I applaud the new owners and developers for the genuine effort and resource they’re putting in, but I fear this will become just another mediocre venue for wealthy older folks who like to smoke cigars, and drink expensive drinks while staring at bright young things who don’t know any better, amidst an atmosphere that only vaguely transports them elsewhere.
    The thing about the State was, you always knew you were right *here*.

    ps: kudos to St Pete Catalyst for presenting an alternative viewpoint. Many of us are happy to see St. Pete rise, but are concerned about how high and far it may go, away from the things that make it special in the first place.

  7. Avatar

    Ellyn B

    April 17, 2020at12:20 am

    Leave the State, the State. Please.

  8. Avatar

    Douglas Richardson

    April 17, 2020at1:39 am

    I grew up in Cleveland Ohio where the equivalent Theater was called The Agora. Its location had to move a couple of times but The Agora was part of Launching many big-name Artists like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. St. Pete does have a Courtyard Stage with Janus Landing Live, but I agree with Scott, the City still needs an Agora or State Theater that feels, fits and looks like your favorite pair of old Blues Jeans.

  9. Avatar

    Doreen Moulton

    April 17, 2020at2:07 am

    In the 60’s i saw movies at the state theater & later i saw many concerts. We all have our memories & will always know it as the state theater. Maybe name it the state theater & social club

  10. Avatar

    Jeff Schorr

    April 19, 2020at10:26 am

    Spot on Scott

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