The David A. Straz Jr. Center for Performing Arts, also known as Tampa’s ‘cultural crown jewel’, recently celebrated its 25-year anniversary supporting growth, culture and arts. 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. Additionally, they estimated that this center should be a $48 million , multi-hall facility in order to support Tampa’s rapid growth.
After years of construction, fundraising, community awareness, and organizing, on September 12, 1987, the originally-named Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center finally held it’s grand opening ‘Great Gala’. High profile members of the community and the board of trustees attended this elite gala that kicked off 25 years of history. During the first season of performances at the facility, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center hosted over 500,000 people that attended over 599 musicals . Through out the next 25 years, names of the facilities would change, but the mission of the Center would stay the same: to provide education and avenues for members of the community to experience and be involved in the arts. In February of 2002, the Center announced its $30 million plans to expand by creating the Patel Conservatory. On December 4, 2004, the Patel Conservatory was officially opened. This new facility provided more space and opportunities for the arts to be expanded in Tampa. The most recent substantial change for the center was in 2009 when the David A. Straz Jr. Foundation donated a substantial gift dedicated to the benefits of the center and it’s programs. This led the Center to be renamed The Straz Center for Performing Arts.
The early 1990’s were an important time for educational development of the Center. During this time, 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 talent could create and perform unique skits and shows for the community. Additionally, the Center 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 held the Tampa Bay Youth Orchestra.
The Center has made history not only in it’s development but also in it’s theatrical accomplishments. In October 1993, the musical “Forever Plaid” opened in one of the Center’s many theatres and became the longest running musical in Florida. Additionally, on December 10-11, 2005, Jerry Seinfeld performed in Morsani Hall and became the time’s most successful single artist show in the Center’s history . In December of 2005 “Wonderland: Alice’s New Musical Adventure” premiered at the Straz and in April of 2011 it opened on Broadway. The Straz has a rich Tampa history and will continue to have positive impacts on the community as it educates and spreads awareness for the arts.