Tuesday, October 23, 2018
News Roundup

Newlyweds renovate historic Rialto Theater as art and event space

TAMPA HEIGHTS

Some couples buy a small starter house and save for their dream home. Hope Donnelly and George Carter II are aiming for bigger and bolder.

They bought the 88-year-old Rialto Theater with a plan to renovate and run creative arts businesses in the historic movie palace on the north end of Franklin Street in downtown Tampa. Dance classes start this month and the ambitious newlyweds expect to host competitions, art and photography exhibitions and rent space for weddings, fashion shows and charity events.

Eventually, they want to turn the mezzanine into their living quarters.

"I don't expect to get rich, but I expect to be happy," said Donnelly, 33, who will continue to teach art at Jefferson High School. She and Carter, incorporated as 8-Count Productions, paid $515,000 for the Rialto on Oct. 15.

Vacant for more than a decade, its neighbors between Interstate 275 and Palm Avenue include a Salvation Army facility, billiards manufacturer, custom wood furniture maker and Asian grocer.

"Inspection showed big things needed to be done," Donnelly said, "but no deal breakers. I don't scare easily."

The front doors had been sealed in cement, there was no functioning plumbing, and the roof was a leaky disaster.

Air-conditioning? It was never installed in the 12,000-square-foot building.

None of that diminished the wow factor — the original proscenium arching 25 feet wide.

Architect Francis Kinnard designed the Rialto as well as the Floridan Hotel, Hillsborough High School, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, El Centro Español de Tampa and the Belleview Biltmore Hotel. It opened in 1926, the same year as the Tampa Theatre nine blocks south, the city's first air-conditioned theater.

"It was a gorgeous building, with a metal canopy that spanned the full facade, very handsome," said architect Stephanie Ferrell. Her efforts on behalf of the Upper North Franklin Street Commercial District, which includes the Rialto, earned recognition on the National Register of Historic Places. The designation can lead to tax credits on restoration performed to certain standards.

Donnelly searched four years for a place to unite her artistic abilities. The Eckerd College graduate spent 10 years dancing and cheering for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Storm and the Orlando Magic. She worked as the entertainment manager from 2005 to 2009 at the then-St. Pete Times Forum, now the Tampa Bay Times Forum. She earned a master's degree in sports and exercise psychology at the University of Tampa while coaching the Spartan cheerleaders and dance team from 2009 to 2013.

"It was an amazing, amazing find. We were very emotional," said Carter, 31. He joined the Navy and trained in information technology and network security after graduating from Gaither High School. In every port, "from Chicago to Malta," he picked up new dance styles, and later became a certified ballroom dance instructor specializing in popping, tutting and other types of freestyle hip-hop.

In its first decade, the Rialto featured musical and comedy acts, then came the "talkies" after Al Jolson starred in The Jazz Singer in 1927. It was shuttered during the Great Depression, then reopened when the Works Projects Administration hired unemployed actors and writers as part of the Federal Theater Project. It closed again after World War II, reopened for a while as the Cinema in the 1950s until the adjacent Bay Armature auto body shop bought it to store heavy equipment.

In October 2007, a group of investors attempted to turn the Rialto and four surrounding buildings into a private membership nightclub. That deal fell apart and a law firm leased the space for storage.

"Everybody is excited about breathing life into this part of the city," Donnelly said. So far, with a Small Business Administration loan, she said they have spent $150,000 for a new thermal plastic roof, electrical and computer network runs, 10 bathroom stalls and air-conditioning in the offices, conference room and bathrooms.

New entry doors, painted royal blue, open to a wide foyer. On the right, a video producer and a Web designer rent two of three tiny offices. A small kitchenette with sink, microwave and refrigerator was created with caterers in mind. New drywall partitions off a linear art gallery, about 75 feet long and 14 feet wide, which Donnelly will curate with local talent and her own artwork.

"One of our last major hurdles is working with the city on a solution for the outdated fire suppression system," Donnelly said. "We want it to be a safe building but we don't have $100,000 for new valve work."

So far, they've hosted a Tampa Heights neighborhood association event and the Gasparilla International Film Festival shot a commercial there. Rental rates range from $500 to $3,500 for 50 to 300 guests.

The premiere event was their own wedding April 12, which showed off the progress and potential they saw all along.

Phase two will restore architectural details, install more air-conditioning and turn three small nooks into art studios tucked under the roof. Repairs could top $1 million for optimal commercial and residential functionality, Carter said.

One day their penthouse — the former mezzanine — will have a bird's-eye view of the proscenium.

"I definitely see kids running through the studio," Donnelly said.

Amy Scherzer can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3332.

   
Comments
Grammy Award winning Christian vocalist performs in Sun City Center

Grammy Award winning Christian vocalist performs in Sun City Center

Steve Green, Christian vocalist, will perform at Trinity Baptist Church. He's celebrating 31 years in the Christian music industry.
Updated: 7 minutes ago
Pinellas substitute teacher brings a gun to school, and is escorted out

Pinellas substitute teacher brings a gun to school, and is escorted out

Police removed a substitute teacher from Largoís Anona Elementary School on Tuesday after discovering the teacher was in possession of a gun, according to the Pinellas County school district.In a call to parents, principal Ann Welsh said the substitu...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Ruskin motorcyclist crashes, fatally struck while lying on road

Ruskin motorcyclist crashes, fatally struck while lying on road

After colliding with a boat trailer on US-41, a motorcyclist was ejected from his vehicle and lying on the road. He was then struck by another vehicle traveling northbound and died from his injuries.
Updated: 23 minutes ago
Lazydays acquires Tennessee RV Supercenter

Lazydays acquires Tennessee RV Supercenter

SEFFNER ó Lazydays Holdings Inc., the Seffner-based RV dealership, is acquiring Tennessee RV Supercenter, the company announced Tuesday. The deal, for which financial details were not disclosed, is expected to finalize within the next two months. "We...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Whatís behind Yanni Gourdeís strong start for the Lightning

Whatís behind Yanni Gourdeís strong start for the Lightning

Yanni Gourde has a simple goal this season, and it's the same one he had last season: Play 82 games.The Lightning forward knows how much each game counts. Gourde was just short of the NHL's cutoff to count a rookie season two years ago. So he wa...
Updated: 28 minutes ago
Land O'Lakes man killed after losing control, striking utility pole

Land O'Lakes man killed after losing control, striking utility pole

A Land O' Lakes man was killed while speeding northbound down County Road 583 when he lost control of his vehicle, veered into the shoulder and slammed into a utility poll.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Residents continue to find flaws with Upper Tampa Bay Trail reroute

Residents continue to find flaws with Upper Tampa Bay Trail reroute

A developer hopes to rezone land around the trail for an apartment complex, but the plan has drawn opposition.
Updated: 1 hour ago
The president says itís okay, claims Tampa man accused of groping woman on flight

The president says itís okay, claims Tampa man accused of groping woman on flight

A Tampa man accused of groping a woman during an airline flight said "the President of the United States says itís okay to grab women by their private parts," according to a criminal complaint.Bruce Michael Alexander, 49, grabbed the woman at least t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs agree to terms with former Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter

Bucs agree to terms with former Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter

Two days after losing Kwon Alexander and Jack Cichy to  season-ending injuries, the Bucs agreed to terms with former Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter following a workout Tuesday.Minter, 27, played in nine games last season with the Cincinnati B...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Man fatally shoots stepfather, then himself in Tampa apartment, deputies say

Man fatally shoots stepfather, then himself in Tampa apartment, deputies say

TAMPA ó A woman concerned that she hadnít heard from her husband came home Tuesday to find that her adult son had shot the man and then himself, authorities said.Juan Luis Hernandez II, 30, fatally shot his stepfather, Michael Edward Kurz, and then h...
Updated: 1 hour ago