The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, is often called Tampa’s ‘cultural crown jewel’ and recently celebrated its 25-year anniversary supporting growth, culture, and the arts. Built on an abandoned gravel lot in Downtown Tampa, it took over 30 years and $48 million dollars to create the Straz as we know it. It all began in 1965 when Mayor Nick Nuccio selected a committee to create a music hall in Tampa. However, the project failed and was forced onto a back burner until 1979 when Mayor Bob Martinez was reported to be considering two downtown sites for a center for the performing arts. In 1980, Martinez created a new committee to make plans and solicit funds for this center in downtown Tampa. After years of research, in 1981, Artec Consultant’s Inc published a study of the Tampa community that established the need and want for a center for the performing arts.
After years of construction, fundraising, and organizing- on September 12, 1987, the originally-named "Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center" finally held its grand opening “Great Gala.” During the first season of performances at the facility, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center hosted over 500,000 people that attended over 599 musicals. The center was a success and the community rallied around what would only be the start of the next 25 years to come. In 2009, the David A. Straz Jr. Foundation donated a substantial gift dedicated to the benefits of the center and its programs. The name of the facility would then change to the David A. Straz Jr. Center (more commonly referred to as the Straz or the Straz Center) in thanks for this donation. However, no matter the name, the mission would remain the same- to provide education and avenues to members of the community so that they may experience and be involved within the arts.
During the early 1990s, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center opened its first community outreach facility- the 130 seat Off-Center Theatre- as a venue for local artists and musicians. Here, local talents have the freedom and opportunity to create and perform unique skits and shows for the community. There is also opportunity for teens and children as the Straz Center has created free educational outreach programs for teachers to educate their students on the arts, free summer day camps for children interested in the arts and holds the Tampa Bay Youth Orchestra. There are dance and theatre lessons available, as well as live performances to further encourage young potential starlets to pursue their passions in the arts. Most community and educational based classes and performances are held within the Patel Observatory, an expensive $30 million addition to the Straz Center’s façade. In 2005, the Patel Conservatory received the Annual Future of the Region Award from the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and became a member of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts.
The Straz Center has made history in its theatrical accomplishments such as hosting the longest running musical in Florida, “Forever Plaid” and hosting world known acts like, Jerry Seinfeld whom performed in Morsani Hall and became the time’s most successful single artist show in the Straz’s history. But even more amazingly, “Wonderland: Alice’s New Musical Adventure” premiered at the Straz in December of 2005, six years before it would open on Broadway in April of 2011.