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

Scott Bitterli

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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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