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Tampa cultural centers reveal future renovations

Displayed in Maestro was a model of what the Straz Center for the Performing Arts will look like if it passes the feasibility stage of renovations. ORACLE PHOTO/BREANNE WILLIAMS

Three leading institutions in Tampa met Tuesday morning to announce their renovation and expansion plans, promising an improving art scene for the Tampa community.

The Tampa Theatre, the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and the Tampa Bay History Center all detailed their plans for modification in a downtown debriefing series titled, “The Arts are Alive in Downtown.”

Tampa is renowned for its unique atmosphere, as the city is home to amusement parks and zoos, has an eclectic mix of residents from retirees to college students and sports many unique businesses. 

The bountiful art scene is one of its major assets. As the city continues to grow, this scene is making necessary changes to ensure they’re not left behind.

With the estimated $3 billion worth of renovations Jeff Vinik has planned for Channelside, which will bring focus to the riverfront, the three art centers announced they too were undergoing major changes to attract the new Tampa audience. 

The Straz Center for  the Performing Arts, which is still in the feasibility stage of renovations, plans to build a rooftop terrace, a waterfront sculpture, a new building for offices and an expanded home for its restaurant, Maestro, which it hopes will be open full-time rather than around show times.

The Center also hopes to soon be connected to the rest of the Riverwalk.

“We’re advocating for the continuation of the Riverwalk on the river,” said Lorrin Shepard, the chief operating officer for the Straz. “It’s the one missing element now of the Riverwalk. When you get to the south end of the performing arts center, you have to leave the Riverwalk to come up on to the arrival plaza and find your way past the railroad tracks back down to the river alongside the museum.” 

It also wishes to realign roads for a more sensible entry to the theater and create an event pavilion for additional programming space. 

The upcoming changes promise major construction downtown, and if all the plans come to fruition, the Straz will inarguably become a destination location on the Riverwalk.

The Tampa Bay History Center is also revamping its collection, with an $11 million expansion project that will add 8,500 square feet on its third floor. By the end of the year, the center will have a Treasure Seekers Gallery full of artifacts recovered from shipwrecks off the coast. Pirates will be the major theme of the new attraction, which is fitting for the city that throws an annual parade for the sea rovers and allows them to kidnap its mayor.  

There will also be a 60-foot replica pirate ship and visitors can learn to navigate the seas using the stars and technology, like an astrolabe. The Pirates’ Life interactive theater lets people live the life of a pirate and fight battles against other ships, which will undoubtedly attract hoards of children. 

The center also partnered with USF to create a map library that will be home to more than 6,000 original maps dating back to the discovery of the New World. It will be the only cartographic center in the Southeast and one of nine in the U.S.

The beloved Tampa Theatre, which has been in the city since 1926, is also undergoing a $6 million restoration project.

“There’s not a great city in the world that does not also have great cultural facilities,” said John Bell, president and CEO of Tampa Theatre. 

The majority of the theater’s renovations are centered on restoring its beauty and improving comfort for customers because it is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city.

The cramped aisles will soon be a thing of the past, and viewers will soon be able to have legroom when watching classics such as The Wizard of Oz on the big screen. The balcony will be renovated to a VIP area with bistro tables at the seats, which Bell said will be ideal for concerts and other special events. 

Post-Vinik Tampa may end up being one of the hottest cities in the country and ensuring the arts are not left behind is essential to keeping the culture this city has grown around intact. 

Downtown is no longer simply where you go for meetings or to change your voter registration. There is an entire world of restaurants, museums and entertainment woven among the skyline. It seems that this thriving atmosphere will only continue to grow as iconic venues continue to evolve along with the city they call home.