A plan to make improvements to Hough Hall, the Palladium Theater’s 800-seat main auditorium, is in the very early stages.
Built in 1925 as the First Church of Christ the Scientist, the venue at 253 5th Ave. N. is on the Register of Historic Places, both the local and national level. So making bold changes to the building itself is out of the question.
St. Petersburg College, which owns the Palladium, commissioned a study by a Tampa architectural firm to establish what needs to be done to turn a nearly 100-year-old church building, never designed for live performances, into an acoustically sound performing arts venue.
“We need to improve the theater, and we’re at the stage of trying to figure out what the next steps are now that we have this plan,” said Palladium executive director Paul Wilborn. “We’re taking steps toward turning Hough Hall into a real working theater, and adding some of the elements that it’s never had.”
Near the top of the list are turning the open-sided stage into a proper proscenium, which would give the Palladium the flexibility to “close in” smaller shows, and “open up” larger productions.
These adjustments directly affect the sound in the room, and therefore the audience experience.
“We’re one night the Gin Blossoms, and the next night The Florida Orchestra, or chamber music,” said Wilborn. “Or a choir. Or dance. The room is very ‘live,’ and it works great for classical music and things like that, but when you get a rock band in there, pounding on the drums, it’s kind of a loud room. We’ve had to be very careful with our sound.”
The old seats – long the topic of audience dissatisfaction – will be replaced.
“No one would know the difference outside the building,” Wilborn said. “And we’re not changing the historic nature of the interior either. We’re looking to soundproof the windows, and having heavy curtains that can drop and dim the sound of a loud show.”
Improvements to the parking lot, and the creation of an outdoor courtyard, are also being discussed.
St. Pete College and the Palladium board have issued an RFP (Request For Proposal) to ascertain what the next step will be.
Still, Wilborn insisted, there is no established timeline for further action, from fundraising to construction to any sort of big renovation reveal.