TAMPA, Fla. — On Mar. 11, 2020, the Tampa Theatre rocked out to their last show, Jesus Christ Superstar, then went silent for 365 days.
While other attractions in the area like zoos and theme parks started reopening, it took the theatre a lot longer.
“We were getting emails from patrons saying what are you all waiting for, why are you not open yet?” Director of Marketing and Community Relations for Tampa Theatre, Jill Witecki said
Witecki said several factors impacted why it took so long to reopen. Members of the board of directors wanted to make sure COVID-19 cases were on the decline, major studios were not releasing their movies in theaters, and the 94-year-old National Historic Landmark needed a new HVAC system.
Witecki said they consulted with Tampa General Hospital to get the best air conditioning system to filter out virus particles in the air to keep customers safe.
"Switching out the air handler to make sure that more fresh air was coming into the building the other was to install some kind of ionization system that would actually clean the air as it was coming through the HVAC system, the price tag on those two things was lofty,” Witecki said.
With sold-out shows canceled for the foreseeable future, the theatre was losing more than $100,000 a month in fixed costs alone. Witeck said they applied for federal aid.
“The Tampa Theatre received $254,000 from the CARES Act and another $383,000 from the downtown CRA fund for cultural facilities COVID mitigation projects. The total cost of the project was $637,000,” Witecki said.
When the theatre originally opened on Oct. 15, 1926, it was the first commercially air-conditioned building in Tampa.
Along with the new HVAC system, Witecki said there are several other changes people will notice.
"When people walk in they are going to see bands on the seats that they are not allowed to sit in. They are going to see distancing stickers on the floor, they are not going to be able to buy tickets at the box office right away, you are going to have to buy your tickets online,” Witecki said.
One thing customers might like, no more standing in the concession line for popcorn.
“We have a new app that you can sit down in your seat order you concessions through the app and then the app pings you when it is ready to come pick up,” Witecki said.
Tampa Theatre was designed as a Mediterranean Revival architectural style that creates an atmosphere and history enveloping you as you walk through the front door. Witecki hopes customers will come back not just to watch a movie; but to build memories, enjoy a night out, and more importantly support the arts. And, reopening a year to the day of closing, Witecki said was a total coincidence.
"This place is magical we did not plan to have the film open up on the one year anniversary it just lined up how it was supposed to,” Witecki said.
The Father starring Anthony Hopkins opens Thursday.