City to aid restoration of Florida Theatre facade

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Partnering with City Council members, Mayor Alvin Brown announced Thursday that the city will provide money along with a state grant to repair and restore the façade of the Florida Theatre.

Joining Brown to support the downtown venue were City Councilman Jim Love, Florida Theatre President Numa C. Saisselin, Cultural Council Executive Director Tony Allegretti and the members of the nonprofit Cultural Fusion.

"The historic Florida Theatre is home to cultural and entertainment events that have improved our quality of life for four generations," said Brown outside the historic theater, which opened 88 years ago this week. "It has played a key role in making Downtown Jacksonville a destination for more than 100,000 people each year, from the earliest motion pictures and stage shows, to modern artists, musicians, and speakers who inspire public dialogue. I am proud to work with the State of Florida and our vibrant cultural community in a public-private partnership to maintain this vital cultural resource."

"As the owner of the building, the City would have to make these repairs eventually, but because this historic theater is managed by a nonprofit corporation, the Florida Theatre Performing Arts Center, Inc., we were able to secure two-thirds of the cost from a state grant, and be proactive about the repair," Saisselin said. "This is a great example of why public-private partnerships between city government and the nonprofit sector, especially concerning our historic cultural institutions, work so well."

More than 150,000 people attended 151 events at the Florida Theatre last year, generating a $9.9 million economic impact for the city in 2014.

Under legislation filed with the City Council on Wednesday, the City of Jacksonville will contribute $75,000 to meet the state's requirements for a $150,000 grant awarded by the Florida Department of State's Bureau of Historic Preservation. The project will restore and repair terra cotta elements on the exterior of the building, replacing deteriorating terra cotta features with castings to match the original, renewing deteriorated glazing, and grouting and caulking joints as needed. The target completion date is June 2016.

"I think it is going to really add to the vitality of downtown when we improve this building," Love said. "Because of this grant, we're going to see more and more people want to use Florida Theatre. It's just a jewel. It's beautiful inside. There's almost nothing like it."

The Florida Theatre is one of 28 sites statewide to receive the grant and the only site selected in Duval County.

"The Florida Theatre is an architectural, historical and cultural gem not just for downtown and Jacksonville, but also for our great state for which it is named," Allegretti said. "Who among us has not been inspired as they walk under its iconic marquis, through its historic doors and into its grand house? We at the Cultural Council are excited to see the city partner with the state to ensure generations to come can enjoy this landmark cultural institution."

Opened in 1927, the theater offered a wide variety of entertainment to Jacksonville residents over the next five decades, from international stars like Elvis Presley to locally produced opera, dance, and dramatic performances, and civic use.

In 1980 it closed, and the following year, the Cultural Council's precursor, the Arts Assembly of Jacksonville, launched a $4.1 million capital campaign to support restoration and renovation of the facility.

Its reopening on Oct. 1, 1983, marked the culmination of the most ambitious and successful arts project undertaken at that time in Jacksonville.

Today, the Florida Theatre Performing Arts Center, Inc. manages the city-owned facility, hosting community events such as the Jacksonville Film Festival, the Florida Ballet, and this week's One Spark Speaker Series, as well as headliner concerts such as Natalie Merchant, Merle Haggard, Dave Chappelle, Queens of the Stone Age and John Legend.