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Business Observer Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022 3 months ago

After 20-month pandemic shutdown, theater plans to reopen

The Southwest Florida Event Center shuttered in May 2020.

BONITA SPRINGS — The Southwest Florida Event Center in Bonita Springs, 20 months after shutting its doors due to the pandemic, has announced some show-must-go-on news: The facility is reopening.

The owners of the facility, Jennifer and Richard Shanahan, announced the news in a Facebook post Jan. 26, ending it with “Let’s rock 'n' roll!” The news reverses a May 6, 2020, statement, when the center, which has hosted acts from Melissa Etheridge to Amy Grant to Toad the Wet Sprocket, among dozens of others, had said it was permanently closing. “There are so many facets and so many unknowns that we have made the difficult decision to cease operations,” the Shanahans wrote back then.

The latest statement didn’t indicate a reopening date. “The exciting news comes on the heels of extensive restructuring and positive changes for the patrons and artists alike,” the owners wrote. “Throughout the break in the music, the Southwest Florida Event Center has not wavered in its mission: to bring an intimate venue with extraordinary international talent to Southwest Florida.”

File. The Southwest Florida Event Center in Bonita Springs opened in 2016.

The Shanahans say they will accommodate 200 less patrons per show when reopening, adding “safety will be our number one priority for all.

“The last two years have been difficult to be away from the hustle of the concert and event business,” they wrote. “Considerable time has been spent evaluating the challenges of the industry moving into 2022.

Originally called the Southwest Florida Performing Arts Center, the facility opened in 2016. Back then area entrepreneur Brien Spina said he spent at least at least $7 million to turn the former Eckerd drug store into a concert and events hall. The 27,000-sqaure-foot space now holds some 900 people in the main theatre. The Shanahans took over ownership in 2017 and have since built it into major concert hub, competing with the likes of the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers and Artis-Naples for a variety of performers.

“We always believed in chasing unicorns: bigger talent possibly not fit for a venue our size,” the Shanahans say in the statement. “The time has come to start chasing unicorns again. We are ready to embrace our loyal patrons who have encouraged us to bring the music back to life in Southwest Florida.”

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