Renovating the Rialto (always)

You would think after the first 2 years of #renovatingtherialto (Renovating the Rialto since 2013) I would have completed everything there was to do.  Realistically, and you know this if you have ever owned an older home, you are never truly finished.  The first couple of years focused on bringing the neglected space back up to code and functional for a wide variety of uses.  After “living” in the space for over 5 years now, I have learned what works and what doesn’t with an extensive wish list of improvements.  Through the support of a second Historic Preservation Challenge Grant award and a construction loan with Bank of Tampa, I am able to have some more fun with our next round of renovations.

Let’s Go Greener!

The Rialto has gone solar and this is no small feat!  It still surprises me, that living in the Sunshine State, more businesses and homeowners have not tapped into the power of the sun for energy.  With a 30% tax credit incentive and equipment costs going down, it may still be an expensive investment, which is outweighed by the benefits and long-term savings.  We started our green energy efforts 2 years ago by purchasing wind credits to offset our electric use, but it was important to actually use an alternative energy source.  The Rialto is the first venue in the Tampa Bay area to go solar, which is more embarrassing that prideful, and my hope is that others will follow.

It had a large fan housing structure and vent-house that were obsolete to remove from the roof first, and allow a surface more conducive to the solar grid.  Florida Summer weather can be tricky with daily showers or an entire week of thunderstorms, and much of the metal structure had to be cut apart in pieces from being rusted together.  Almost a month later, and all the pieces were off the roof and the roof was patched and sealed with a white TPO surface.  This also positively affects our energy use as the roof is not black tar and remains much cooler year round.

Still concrete, but polished and shiny

While the roof work was being done, we also took the month to resurface the concrete floors throughout the building that were probably poured around 1950 when the theater seats, stage, and box office were all removed.  No one tells you ahead of time, that the process of patching imperfections in the concrete begins with a jack hammer to cut the holes and pockets into squares in order to hold the concrete patch.  Needless to say, most of my office hours were spent at Foundation Coffee and there were a couple of weeks with almost no client meetings out of necessity.  6 weeks later, as the sky was falling from the roof work, and the shiny surface was worth it.  It is still an industrial, historic space, but glossy concrete lightens the entire room.

As part of the floor updates, I painstakingly installed copper epoxy to the bathrooms and kitchen prep areas.  The concrete contract did, what I thought to be, the hard part of grinding and preparing the floors and I came in and poured over copper epoxy.  It really isn’t that simple and I actually ruined an entire bucket of product because I was taking too long and didn’t know it would have a chemical reaction so quickly that it melted the bucket and hardened in a matter of minutes.  Learning curve.  I pulled a few late nights getting them ready before our first event back from closing for the Summer, as is often the case to make sure the space is ready for special occasions.

Speaking of light, now there is daylight!

I have preserved anything in the Rialto that I could from the facade, the proscenium arch, brick walls, a row of theater seats, and a few light fixtures found in the attic.  Unfortunately, the original steel windows with 100 years of replacement glass (even plexi), rusted, painted over, and inoperable, were not something that could be realistically salvaged.  New aluminum windows designs with the same grid pattern as the originals have been installed and allow beautiful daylight to cascade over the shiny, new floors.  You can even see blue skies!  Which was something I could not say for 5 years.  Photographers and clients love the new light and bright look.

Still cleaning up the details

Although it never bothered me, and I love the charm of a slightly rough, industrial space, the electrical hub of the building was an eye-sore to some.  It has additional equipment controlling the solar power and connecting to the building power, so the space was a little crowded and standing out.  With the addition of a black curtain to match the entryway and proscenium curtain, the equipment is hidden just enough and the space cleaned up a bit more.

Although most clients will never see it, the catering prep areas got a makeover with new paint, wall hooks and bulletin boards, epoxy floors, and a stainless steel prep counter.  The space is still compact, but much more functional for the wide range of caterers who use the space.

My office has always been the last to get any attention, by then my energy is spent, but it was long overdue for some color and style!  Although still a work in progress (what isn’t really?), the feature wall is something I am very proud to have done myself and is a much more creative space to work, although I still end up in the gallery or lounge or coffee shop many days.  New geometric lights, suspended shelves, copper and rose gold accents and new layout make the space much more functional and beautiful.

What is next?

While I won’t give it away yet, I have big plans for some more visible projects at the theater.  It feels as though many of the main systems are finished, other than normal repairs, so I can spend some energy on decorative, historic, and creative projects that will continue to enhance the space and the experience of all who enter the blue doors.  See what changes you can find the next time you are #behindthebluedoors!

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