More than 80 downtown JAX Chamber board members and guests gathered virtually on February 19 to learn about the past, present and future of Jacksonville’s most historic entertainment venue.
The Zoom presentation was provided by Numa Saisselin, president of the Florida Theater Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. The nonprofit has managed and programmed the theater since 1987, when the city purchased the building, 60 years after it opened. in Forsyth and Newnan streets. .
Saisselin and his team manage the six office floors of the building and book artists.
“We have put money in place. We pay the performers, the stagehands, security, the bartenders and the ticket office staff and we pay for the advertising, ”he said.
The economic impact of the theater is approximately $ 13 million per year, which represents more than 400 full-time equivalent jobs, Saisselin said.
Like other businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a negative effect on theater. Prior to March 2020, around 175 shows opened at the theater each year. Despite the pandemic shutdown, the Florida Theater remains one of the top five venues in the United States with less than 2,000 seats in terms of ticket sales.
“Before COVID, we were on an 18-month list. The economy was strong. People were spending money and artists were on tour. On March 12, 2020, it all came to an abrupt halt, ”said Saisselin.
With no choice but to close the venue, the $ 10 million renovation plan in preparation for the theater’s 100th anniversary in 2027 was accelerated.
Wider seats with more legroom and cup holders were installed, as well as a new audio system. The remainder of the plan will expand the lobby and bar, improve the washrooms and replace the HVAC system, he said.
Saisselin said he hopes a positive outcome from the pandemic will be a greater appreciation of the value of people coming together for entertainment.
“Television and zoom are not the same as something happening here and only now.”
The venue has reopened to 50% of its social distancing capacity, with door temperature checks and face masks required in the building.
Free concerts planned
Saisselin is also president of Downtown Vision Inc., the nonprofit organization funded by an additional property tax paid by downtown owners that promotes the neighborhood as a place to live, work and play.
He said the Florida Theater is reserving performers for DVI’s free outdoor concert series every Thursday evening in April at Riverfront Plaza, the former site of Jacksonville Landing.
The lineup, which has yet to be announced, will include classic and alternative rock, country and hip-hop.
“We keep the young audience in mind,” said Saisselin.
City Center Council Grant
The Downtown Council announced on February 15 a donation of $ 5,000 to the Jacksonville Historical Society for the Jacksonville Music History Museum project.
The contribution was the net proceeds of sponsorship of the group’s annual “Paw Print Painting”, conducted each year on the Saturday before the Jacksonville Jaguars’ first home game, said Gracie Simendinger, President of the Downtown Council. .
The Downtown City Council also submitted an entry for the Historical Society’s annual Gingerbread House competition at the Historic St. Andrews in the Sports Complex.
Simendinger said the entrance was a miniature representation of the bright yellow paw prints painted on Bay Street across from the Bostwick Building, now Cowford Chophouse.
Baked and decorated by Downtown Council board member Laura Phillips Edgecombe, it won the People’s Choice Award and raised around $ 1,000 for the company, based on votes from the public at $ 1 each, said Simendinger.
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