Tampa Theatre announces plans for new, more spacious seating amid restoration

An artists' rendering of new chairs and carpeting planned for historic Tampa Theatre.
An artists' rendering of new chairs and carpeting planned for historic Tampa Theatre.
Published Dec. 15, 2016

Tampa Theatre is a cultural jewel, a historic landmark and a bit of a pain in the posterior. The first two qualities won't change but the third will.

The historic venue's president and CEO John Bell has announced plans to install new seats in rows spaced farther apart for more leg room. Thousands of Tampa Bay butts and kneecaps applaud Bell's declaration.

New chairs are part of a $6 million restoration project, the first phase of a top-to-bottom makeover for Tampa Theatre, which celebrated its 90th birthday in October.

Bell said more than $4 million has been raised through private donations and government grants. Bell announced a crowd-sourced funding effort, cheekily named Cush Your Tush, to raise the rest through donations at or by texting SEATS to 243725. Patrons can also sponsor a seat at prices ranging from $500 to $5,000, including a commemorative plaque.

Bell expects the seat installations to be completed by December 2017. The new chairs include cup holders, while mezzanine seating will include small bistro tables. New drapes and carpeting to match the building's original design are included.

Other renovations won't be as noticeable but are crucial to Tampa Theatre's survival: New windows, sump pumps, drainage and electrical upgrades. Paint and plaster are being forensically matched to architect John Eberson's original plans.

But about those seats...

This is only the second time in 90 years that Tampa Theatre's seats are being switched out. In 1926, Eberson installed brown leather seats with ornate carved paintings on the end of each row. Those were replaced in 1976 with the current red velvet chairs.

Final designs for the renovation haven't been decided. Bell said Eberson's original vision will be considered.