Kevin Chadwick, who grew up in St. Petersburg, has sky-high hopes for his ‘legacy project’ — a reinvention of an iconic downtown music venue.
It’s been a bank, a movie theater, a music venue — for both local and national touring acts — and, now, the Floridian Social Club.
Formerly known as the State Theatre, the nearly 100-year-old building in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg’s trendy 600 block of Central Avenue is undergoing a transformation that’s about 90% complete, owner Kevin Chadwick says. A St. Pete native, Chadwick's family trust purchased the 8,600-square-foot property for $1.26 million from Anthony and Frank Dagostino in June 2018.
Chadwick, who fondly recalls attending Christmas movies as a boy at the State Theatre, says reviving and reinventing the worn-down building is “a passion project.”
‘I'm a business guy, and I think you have an obligation to run something that is going to be able to stand on its own two feet.’ Kevin Chadwick, real estate developer
Buying the historic venue was also a completely unexpected business opportunity for Chadwick, 59, who owns several local Keller Williams real estate franchises. He says he had been looking for a “legacy project” that he could entrust to his children someday. He'd envisioned something more rural, like a farm or ranch property.
However, it doesn’t take someone as plugged into real estate as Chadwick to see what’s been happening in downtown St. Pete over the past few years. “A land grab,” as Chadwick puts it.
“Developers from outside the state are looking for opportunities, and they recognize that downtown St. Pete is a hotspot to invest in,” he says. “Apparently, the other potential [State Theatre] buyers were in a position to repurpose the theater — they were not going to maintain it as a theater. They were going to completely redevelop the site.”
The next question: Will fans of the State Theatre’s grungy, lived-in, warts-and-all aesthetic respond to Chadwick’s makeover, which he describes as featuring an “Art Deco, Roaring ‘20s, 'Great Gatsby'” style?
Chadwick believes they will. Under his stewardship, the property won't retain the State Theatre name but will continue to host concerts and other performing arts events. The front half of the building, meanwhile, will feature a lounge for social gatherings and events, along with smaller rooms for private meetings. It will also be fitted out with a cafe serving locally made coffee and baked goods.
Expanding the property’s purpose, usage and hours of operation will boost revenue, Chadwick says. Most theater properties don’t make a lot of money — and sometimes even lose money — because they’re open only during major concert events.
“They become philanthropic drains,” Chadwick says. “They’re constantly looking for donors, for people to support it. And I have no interest in that. I'm a business guy, and I think you have an obligation to run something that is going to be able to stand on its own two feet.”
The State Theatre was in less than tip-top shape when Chadwick — by request of Jon Wittner, who heads up his Keller Williams commercial real estate division, KW Commercial — toured it in spring 2018.
“It was a total wreck,” he says. “There was not one thing that worked. Code enforcement had put stickers on certain things and reduced the occupancy down to under 600. And the restrooms — I wouldn't let my kids go in those restrooms. I was shocked.”
Chadwick declines to specify how much he’s spent on renovations and upgrades to the State Theatre, only to say it surpasses $1 million. Creative Arts Unlimited Inc., headquartered in Pinellas Park, is handling the design and build, based on architectural work done by St. Petersburg-based Jack Wodziak.
Chadwick says it was important to have locally based real estate development talent involved in the property’s makeover. “This whole project is very much a local project,” he says. “I didn't want to go outside of our community for any aspect of it.”
The Floridian Social Club had been expected to open in April, but the coronavirus pandemic has thrown the timeline into uncertainty. Chadwick says the crisis has helped him “learn my lesson, which is that when you are creating a venue that’s going to stand the test of time, something that is going to last for the next hundred years, the timeframe it takes to have it done is the time it’s going to take.”
He adds: “Honestly, I thought we’d be open a year ago, but then life shows up, permits take longer than you anticipate. … There are just so many things that come into play in order to create the venue that you want to create, and things take time to get right.”