Florida Theatre Installing All-New Seating During Pandemic Closure

Aug 4, 2020

The Florida Theatre's management has decided the perfect time to get some renovation work out of the way is now, while it is closed due to COVID-19.

The historic Downtown venue at 128 E. Forsyth St. will be ripping out all existing seats, which date back to 1983, and replacing them with wider, more comfortable seats.

The current capacity of 1,918 will be reduced by about 100 to make room for the wider seats.

The renovation had originally been scheduled for this summer but was pushed back to 2021. With the theatre closed indefinitely, the team started asking whether it would be feasible to move up the renovation timetable again.

"We talked to our architects and our designers and the seat vendor and the answer was a resounding yes, we could accelerate the project and do it right now," said Florida Theatre President Numa Saisselin.

The new seats are being custom made for the Florida Theatre by Irwin Seating. They will be historically appropriate, with burgundy fabric, cast iron aisle ends, and wood seat backs and arm rests.

Irwin Seating has made seating for thousands of venues around the world, including Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Royal Arena in Copenhagen.

Aisle lighting is also being increased upstairs and downstairs, with handrails being added in the balcony.

The row depths won’t change, but the new balcony seats will have a slimmer profile seat bottom that will give audiences a little more leg room.

The number of wheelchair accessible positions is also being doubled.

For those who have fond Florida Theatre memories or just want to help out with donations, the theatre is selling its current seats. They are $50 each, plus an additional $50 for each cast iron aisle end.

They are being sold "as is" and may require reassembly or parts. Orders must be placed and paid for by Monday, August 10, at 9 a.m. and the seats must be picked up by Thursday, August 13, by 5 p.m.

The theatre is also offering name plaques on the new seats for donors who wish to have a company name or the name of a loved one on a seat. Seats names in the orchestra and the loge are $1,000 each, and seats in the balcony are $500 each. The plaques will remain in place for the lifetime of the new seats.

Called the Adopt-A Seat commitment, those orders are due no later than Nov. 2, 2020. Additional information about that program will be available on the Florida Theatre’s website the week of August 10.

The Florida Theatre, which dates back to 1927, is also working on plans for its next round of capital improvements, which are expected to include a new sound system, stage lighting upgrades, replacing the theatre’s heating, ventilating and air conditioning system, and other enhancements.

Those enhancements will be made as part of a $10 million fundraising campaign that includes the city appropriating $1 million per year for five years, according to WJCT News partner the Jacksonville Daily Record.

The Florida Theatre is owned by the city of Jacksonville, and leased to the Florida Theatre Performing Arts Center, Inc., a nonprofit corporation founded in 1987 to manage and program the theatre. The theatre's  funding comes from a variety of sources that include individual donations, corporate sponsorships, ticket sales and advertising in its program books. 

"We're super excited that something good can come out of the Florida Theatre being closed for weeks on end," said Saisselin.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.