“Every so often we’re blessed with the opportunity to participate in the renovation and preservation of a historically relevant jewel of a venue,” said Mark T. Black, principal at IA Stage. “The St. Petersburg Coliseum is one of those gems.”
The Mediterranean Revival-style Coliseum was designed by T.H. Eslick in 1923 and built in 1924 as part of the development boom that took place in Florida after World War I. Publicized as St. Petersburg’s “Palace of Pleasure,” the Coliseum opened its doors on November 20, 1924. It is a designated Local Historical Landmark and an entertainment icon in the St. Pete community. The city of St. Petersburg purchased the Coliseum in 1989.
The 2018 renovation was the culmination of inspections and analyses conducted over several years along with staff observations made during day-to-day use and regular maintenance of the space. Among other identified areas in need of repair, results showed that it was no longer possible to utilize the space to its full potential due to deficiencies in the rigging system. As the timing and funding were finally right, a two-month long partial renovation began in July of last year.
Following recommendations of a 2004 Structural System Evaluation Report conducted by C.E. Odell & Associates, LLC “that a specialty contractor knowledgeable in the servicing and installation of theatrical stage rigging be contracted to renovate the present system,” St. Petersburg contracted IA Stage to manufacture and install a modern steel framed rigging system, a new pin rail, a full set of stage drapes, and update the operating gallery.
The city engaged well-known engineering firm McLaren Engineering Group to design the structural enhancements needed to accommodate the approximately 43’ x 25’ steel rigging grid, which is situated over the stage and extends roughly 4’ downstage of the proscenium arch. “Bringing in a firm of such high caliber really showed how much the city cared about this project,” IA Stage’s Mark T. Black observed.
Renovation – even a partial one – of a ninety-four-year-old building is quite the undertaking. The project was coordinated through St. Petersburg’s Engineering and Capital Improvements Department. As Construction Managers of the project, IA Stage worked very closely with the city. “Our entire team enjoyed working with the city and especially the caring and enthusiastic management and staff of the Coliseum,” said Black.
And so, the Finest Ballroom in the South is back in full swing. The Coliseum remains an active part of the St. Pete community hosting events from trade shows to weddings to concerts to fundraising banquets to ballroom and swing dance events. Speaking of that famed dance floor, Lauren Kleinfeld, the city’s Manager of the Coliseum and Sunken Gardens, told me the current Red Oak flooring was installed in 1992. “The original maple floor is still in place below, so I like to say the memories are still there,” she said.
As I was writing this, I realized that there was way too much to cram into a single blog post about the renovation of such a cool venue. The amount of research and analysis that went into how to access the wooden arch girders alone is fascinating. And exactly what structural enhancements were required to get that steel grid in there? For the rest of this month – all two weeks of it – I’m going to dig deeper into the rigging upgrades. Stay tuned!